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Vanity Fare

“Black tie, huh?”, the attendant asked with a tone taunting lah-di-dah.

“Oh, just another dinner at the Waldorf again…” I retorted rakishly, smirking a wax of faux brass, an ersatz superciliousness, given away by a grin mischievously meant to blow my cover as I swaggered out of the gym.

I had just run a quick mile and was now on my way to the New Yorker for New York Awards Gala at the Waldorf=Astoria, the Art Deco landmark better known as one of New York City’s swankiest hotels. The enigmatic “=” is a historic reference to when the two founding cousins, William Waldorf Astor and John Jacob Astor IV, joined their ritzy establishments with a corridor to connect them. Originally erected on Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street, the buildings made way for the Empire State Building in 1929 and were rebuilt on Park Avenue, opening in 1931 as the largest hotel in the world at the time.

A palatial home-away from-home for globetrotting jet-setters and the worldly well-to-do, the hotel boasts many firsts including:

 The first to abolish the "Ladies Entrance."
 The first to introduce room service.
 The first to suggest people live permanently in private suites.

This evening’s soiree was being hosted by Citizens for NYC, a not-for-profit that aims “to stimulate and support self-help and civic action to improve the quality of life in New York City neighborhoods.”

I had been invited by my company’s foundation because I had helped create the branding for this year’s charitable campaign. I later found out that the company takes about thirty tables a year at various fundraising functions in New York City each year; taking a table meaning a contribution of ten to fifty grand per event.

After taking my short taxi ride up Park Avenue, feeling a fierce, albeit quite false, sense of pride to be in black tie, to be off to some swanky affair, to be a “New Yorker,” I stepped out of my pompous moment and onto the red carpet that greets patrons at 301 Park Avenue.

I was directed to the Grand Ballroom for the fête du soir, and after checking in my coat I sheepishly entered the dimly-lit reception room where the cocktail hour was being held. Demurely I scoured the crowd for someone, anyone, that I might know and immediately felt quite alone. I was eager to take photos, but hesitated because I thought I might instantly give myself away, revealing that I was not one of “them,” one of the well-heeled and well-endowed other guests who could actually afford to attend. Moreover, being that a large portion of the party looked at least a generation older, I opted to remain inconspicuous, at least until after I had my first glass of empowering, bracing, raw scotch.

The first gulp went down quite clean and I navigated my way into the room that gleamed out in the corner of my eye, one further enticing me with a piped piper fiddle of solo violins. As the alcohol erased the day’s tension that had been knotted up in my shoulders, and I began to lose my riled sense of self-consciousness, I released my one-eyed baby from her holding bay and began to snap away at the festive mingling.

Tingling with memories of when I used to organize these fancy bashes myself at the nation’s oldest international education institution, a bit a of cynicism overcame me. Because as an insider I knew how manufactured and rife with pretense the whole affair could be. Then again I may have merely been reacting a spite-tad in defense of my impoverished ego.

Alas, I finally did find a few colleagues. Yet, although I was satisfied to no longer feel alone, I also realized that now I had to make small talk or otherwise bear the awkward lull that inspires contrived interlocution.

I took a few photos of my co-workers to avoid fidgeting, and chatted with them for a few minutes while I simultaneously scanned the room for the passed hors d’oeuvres to stave the hunger. However, since I’m not too crazy about shi-shi seafood, I had to pass on the crusty crab cakes when they came around. Eventually, I excused myself to find "the boy's room."

However, before making my way over to the john, I stopped at the bar where I ended up striking up (or rather striking out on) a challenging conversation with a lonely-looking sprite named Amber who was fresh out of school and now at McKenzie consulting. To my dismay, the sparkle of her youth and cute cocktail tease-of-a-dress did not hold my attention all-too long before my brain yawned and begged me to move on for that tinkle.

Sprinkle, sprinkle, splash-splash and a hand pat-dry later, I stood outside in the corridor leading to the ballroom as the NYC Fire Department's Emerald Society of Pipes and Drums brigade skirted past me playing a bit of Bonnie Lass of Fyvie, boisterously announcing it was time for the real show to begin.

The event began with a generous portion of Smoked Salmon Galette ornamented with a fennel and sweet onion salad and a garnish of micro greens, all topped with a light-yellow swirl of horseradish crème fraiche and chive oil. A galette is a savoury buckwheat crêpe, a type of pancake of sorts originally from Brittany.

Usually, I’m not a big fan of salmon and most seafood for that matter, for the slightest hint of a “fishy” smell repulses me immediately. But, the culinary aesthetics of our chef’s exquisite arrangement drew me in and I decided to try it. It must have come in straight from South Street Seaport because it was surprisingly quite tasty and fresh, with only a hint of its trademark smell. I ate until I was feeling as if I was forcing myself to finish, and then skirted what was left to the periphery of the plate, so that I might indulge in finishing the light and crusty galette.

As we ate and the smaller first forks scraped the china, the inaugural round of awards was presented to the evening’s pantheon of honorees. These included Nurah W. Ammat’Ullah, the Founder and Executive Director of the Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development; and Clyde Evans, President and Executive Director of Rise Up & Walk Youth Outreach Center, who both received Osborn Elliot Community Leadership Awards from the former mayor of New York, the Honorable David Dinkins.

At this point, the whole evening began spinning out into a vertigo of expanding degrees of separation for me. For as I watched this octogenarian bestow the giant aqua-blue Tiffany’s box that probably had a tree-load of equally aqua-blue tissue paper in it and that each and every award recipient received this evening, I suddenly remembered my own personal association with Duh Mayor.

In 1994 he began teaching as a professor of public policy at Columbia University’s graduate School of International and Public Affairs while I was a student there, the year that I served on the student council. As the Social Chair in my second year, I organized a “Frank (Sinatra) and Friends” cocktail hour, which I opened with an informal interview of the Mayor before my classmates in attendance. Albeit nothing exciting came of it, for the rest of my tenure Mayor Dinkins at least knew me on a first name basis and would politely acknowledge me with a smile whenever we passed in the halls.

La Vie en Rose
Much to my pleasant surprise, the rest of the evening would pan out into a wonderful confluence of connections. For instance, while we ate dinner I met one of the people at my table, Rose, who happened to be the head communications person in our Company’s International business, a subsidiary of this Fortune 100 Company that has been growing exponentially over the last few years, and a division which I have kept my eye upon from afar. After I told her that not only have I served as one of the key marketing and communications people for the technology department for the last six years, but that I also have three degrees in international relations and thus was very interested in speaking with her, she smiled and suggested I send her my résumé.

Later on in our conversation, I inquired as whether she knew one of our colleagues in the Corporate Communications department, whom I knew was the key media relations person for our international business. I explained I knew him because I went to school with his wife at Columbia. To my utter shock (and a second later – pleasant surprise) she replied, “Oh, he suddenly quit two weeks ago.” Thus, it suddenly occurred to me that she may have asked me for my résumé for a reason, as there is apparently now a very real vacancy to fill.

Strangely enough, that very morning I had posted to a job opening in another department. It was a bit of a tough decision to proceed as such, primarily because I actually love my current job and I have a good relationship with my boss. The only problem is that we are an extremely small unit and thus the chance for a promotion was little to none over the next couple of years—this new job would automatically be a promotion. Hence, after discussing the matter with our department’s HR director, I was persuaded to post, because, as she put it quite bluntly, “This looks like a great opportunity for advancement. Granted it may be a risk, and your boss may hold it against you, because no one likes to lose valuable resources, but he’ll have a year to get over it before your next review. Besides, with little to no mobility in your current position, what are your alternatives?”

Hence, the sudden spring of yet another opportunity this evening made me smile, and it proved particularly fortuitous since I had just updated my résumé over the weekend in preparation for the job opening I was planning to post to. Needless to say, I forwarded it on the very next morning to Rose and couched it in a touch of praise for her tales of world travel. Coincidentally, that afternoon I ran into her at the café and she began praising my dancing abilities to the colleague she was with, adding with a smile and a squint in her eyes “I received your e-mail this morning. I’ll be calling you later.”

It was almost too good to be true, and so I repressed my budding hopes. Yet, at the same time I knew that ambition never rests, and that when one acts fast and aggressively as opportunity presents itself, reality fruitions in favor of those who are willing to take charge and command the direction of their fate.

Rose and I chatted about other things as well, which included a girlish regale of her worldly experiences.

At one point she exuberantly told us about her trip to France where men were tripping over themselves to appeal to her. It was revealed that it had been over a decade since her five fun-filled days and four frolicking nights and so I teased her a bit by taunting, “Rose, that was over ten years ago and you’re still talking about it as if it were yesterday. Darling, it sounds like you sorely need to venture back to ol’ Pair-ee!”

Then again, my cat-call could jus have been be a hiss of envy. For after I extolled my erudite worldliness, she asked with a big smile that expressed instant kinship, “So you must love to travel?”

I blurted, “Oh, yes!,” hoping my excited tone might give me a moment to conjure a colloquial kung-fu move, an abeying sway. For although my wanderlust was quite genuine, my experience abroad was actually, lamentably, quite limited. I could count the number of countries I’ve been to on one hand: Mexico, Canada, Italy and Greece; and I intuited that Rose on the other hand would have to use her fingers and her toes, and then some.

Thus, after a pause that allowed us to soak in the sun of our shared penchant for trains, planes and automobiles, I added exuberantly, “In fact, I’m going to Puerto Rico in March.”

She answered to my secret relief, “Oh, I’ve never been…”

“You’ve never been?” I asked back with a nudging tone of surprise and an innocuous hint of one-upmanship. I deduced this was the moment I might waylay any further inquiry from her and thus avoid any embarrassment for having to admit to my limited experience.

And so I asked her, feeling she was bubbling to share, “So where HAVE you been?”

As if it were a magic word to open the mouth of Ali Baba’s cave, she readily replied with effervescent pleasure, immediately listing all the countries she’d been to, almost as if she had rehearsed recounting countless times before.

I proceeded to ask her what languages she knew and she said that she had studied French and German. I tried to strike up a conversation with her with my best Parisian accent, but she immediately demurred, blushing a bit, a charming rouge that complemented her lithe bouquet of red hair. I let it go and deferred to asking her how long she’d been with the Company. Again she paused, than answered, “a long time.”

You could immediately tell that she was being age-conscious, but I really didn’t care because I thought she was attractive regardless of the number, and thus I pressed on. “Come on now, how long?”

She demurred again by replying “Guess.”

“Oh, I don’t know, ten years maybe?”

“Twenty,” she finally blurted out, as if a great weight had just been unloaded. This was followed by an awkward pause, which I filled in by asking her if she would like to dance. She smiled and readily replied, “I’d love to.”

After a spin on the parquet we sat down and Rose began blathering about how star-struck she was and beamed as she accounted for all the media magnates, high-profile public officials and other emissaries she had seen tonight. Later that evening during dessert, so taken was she by the congregation of well-knowns, Rose professed that she was leaving to make rounds in search of more celebrities.

Happy Birthday Tom
Dinner was prefaced with two more awards. One, to Michael Slocum, CEO of Wachovia Bank, presented by NYC’s School Chancellor, Joel Klein; and the other to the happy and flamboyant Broadway star André De Shields, who has played leading roles in The Full Monty, Play On!, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and The Wiz.

In appreciation of the honor, André delighted us with an a cappella rendition of “I Believe in You” at the podium, after which we were immediately served a succulent cut of Sliced Tenderloin of Beef au Poivre with Spinach and Gruyere Cheese Potato Soufflé, Mélange of Asparagus Tips, Grape Tomatoes and Chanterelles topped with Cabernet Sauce. Needless to say, although I was really not all that hungry anymore, I practically licked the plate.

As we indulged in our delectable meal, two more awards were presented. The first two were presented by NYC Police Commissioner, Raymond Kelly to Rossana Rosado, former Editor-in-Chief of el diario/La Prensa, the oldest Spanish-language newspaper in the United States; and Stephen J. Dannhauser, Chairman of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, one of the premier international law firms headquartered here in New York City.

Finally, to complement our dessert of a truly incredible Pecan Crunch Sundae, so delicious that I almost felt like I was high while eating it, the Founding Chairman of Citizens for NYC, Osborn Elliott, presented the last two awards.

The first was to the slightly eccentric Graydon Carter, editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair magazine since 1992, whose fantastic flair of grey hair complemented his wit at the podium. After thanking his family he told everyone that he wanted to cherish this moment by taking a picture. Of course, everyone laughed as he whipped out his little compact digital and snapped a flash photo of all of us smiling at our tables.

The final award and highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Medal for Lifetime Public Service to Mr. Tom Brokaw, the former anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News.

Mr. Elliot introduced him by announcing that today was actually Tom’s 66th birthday. And so as he came up to the stage, a small cake with a few candles accompanied him and the entire auditorium of a few hundred guests took to singing “Happy Birthday.” Oddly, I felt strangely happy to oblige. Maybe it was because I was seated a few feet from the stage, and thus felt an obligation to sing along as a courtesy to the evening’s primary laureate. Then again, maybe it was just the wine...

Being so up-close, I immediately noted, and was somewhat surprised to see, that Tom was looking older than 66, which to me merely meant that I was getting older too.

Tom received the award gracefully by sharing a short story with us about the first time he came to New York.

When I first came to New York I was 17, a young man from South Dakota who had come in for a mere 36 hours to participate in a game show. I was very excited because I had long dreamed of coming here and had been a life-long (Brooklyn) Dodgers fan.

I was fortunate enough to be accompanying my state’s governor, Joe Foss, because that night when we left the television studios he asked me about my plans. I told him I was scheduled to fly back the next day, but there was so much I hadn’t seen in New York. He immediately said, “Oh, you should stay a few days. I’ll arrange for your extended hotel stay and you call your parents and tell them I said so—and I’ll see them when I get back Monday and close the deal.”

That’s all I needed. I raced back to the hotel and called home to make the case for staying a few more days.

Admittedly I was a little nervous though, because “Red,” as my dad was known, was a gruff, no-non-sense construction foreman, and so I wasn’t entirely confident that he would take to the governor’s whimsical suggestion.

When I told him the governor thought it was a good idea, there was a long pause on the other end of the phone, and then my father said, “Well son, I guess you should. After all, you’ll probably never get another chance to see New York.”

Tom Brokaw, as many of us know, became a quintessential New Yorker. Thus, his “casual” remarks, earmarked with a touch of nostalgic sentimentality, immediately struck a chord in me that I have not felt in a while.

California Dreaming
Lately, I’ve been California dreamin’, pining to go back home, if only for a short visit to be with my family, who all still reside there. I was actually vying to sojourn west this last weekend because my sister was moving back up north to San Jose where we grew up, after having lived in LA for the last ten years or so. She was moving in with our father and was going to take over his business, so that he could finally retire and play out the rest of his days on the green, his heaven on earth. Coincidentally, yesterday and last week were my brother and sister’s birthdays as well, so there was this swell of desire to be back with my parents and siblings to mark this momentous occasion. Alas, the stars did not align, and I remained confined to my place here on the cold East Coast.

Thus, when Tom told his story, basking in the underlying glory of his successful career here, I was taken by the notion that New York wasn’t such a bad place to be after all, at least for the time being. For as brass and curt and unkind The City can be, there is a certain masochistic glee to bearing and grinning it all, especially if you can rise above the grind and truly make something of this urban strife.

One of my all-time favorite quotes was written in 1997 by Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Her words were later mysteriously, yet quite erroneously, attributed to a commencement speech that Kurt Vonnegut purportedly gave at MIT:

“Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.”

At almost 40, I find myself fondly looking back a little more often at the first half of my life which I spent in Northern California, with its fabled perfect climate, one which I can attest is quite true. I was 24 when I parted ways with my small town of San Jose with big dreams in tow and ventured off to go to that grad school in the sky, the one that sits atop a slope in Manhattan known as Morningside Heights.

It’s a Small World After All
Beyond my association with Hizzoner (which for those in the know is simply “his honor” with a Brooklyn accent, and our term of affection for the mayor of New York City) my two years at the School of International Affairs (SIPA) affectionately known as “See-Pah” to alumni, actually reverberated in a few more ways this evening. Hence, once again I was quite amused by how life continually is a never-ending circle of experience, and how despite the fact there are 8 million stories in the city, mine seems to be confined to quite a small world after all.

As mentioned before, throughout the evening I was seated next to Keith, an attorney for the New York State Homeland Security Office, and a native New Yorker who was born, bred and well educated in Queens. At some point in our conversation he asked me about SIPA because a friend of his was interested in applying to graduate programs in international relations, and she had expressed a great interest in my alma mater in particular.

I attempted to be frank by revealing that I had mixed feelings about the experience. For on the one hand, the opportunities that the Ivy League network offers have its merits because it gives one caché and opens doors that strategically connect you to the world-at-large. However, it was a damned expensive entrée and in terms of the quality of education I feel strongly that I was equally well served for a pittance of the price while I was enrolled in the first graduate program I was in back home at San Jose State University.

Ironically enough, this mixed blessing, the ivy league network, actually afforded me a chance to interact with the head table. For I soon realized that two fellow classmates and quasi-friends happened to be seated there.

After I made my obligatory hello there I returned to my table and laughed as I conveyed to Keith how I had made a fool of myself when I went to say hello to Alec (McCabe), a journalist who spent some time working in Shanghai and then in Hong Kong running the Bloomberg operation in Asia. I had seen Kirsti (Hastings), his wife and who was also a journalist for the DowJones Newswires at one time I believe, earlier at the cocktail hour where we had exchanged a few words trying to remember exactly where we had seen each other last, not all that long ago. Both of us seemed to remember it was an art reception in some lofty-loft high up in the sky overlooking Chelsea. And being that I had been to a lot of art openings lately I presumed it had been at one of these functions.

Ironically, however, I later recalled the next day that it was in fact at a gallery, but the reception was not an opening but actually a SIPA alumni reception. Alec, Kirsti and I were the only people representing our class. Most of the others were sycophantic second-years desperately tugging at alumni’s ears with hopes that they might somehow miraculously land themselves a job before graduating.

Anyway, I was only-half listening to Kirsti when we met at the bar, so when I approached her husband later on at dinner I mentioned how she had said “You two had been coming to this function for years now, because your cousin or uncle or some relative or other was involved in the founding of the organization…” Alec smiled and corrected me without a hint of condescension, “Actually, Ozzie is my stepfather.” My blush must have lit up the room, but Alec diplomatically diffused my embarrassment by asking me if I had anymore wine at my table. I smiled brightly, because it was this lovely couple’s unbridled consumption of alcohol that I fondly remembered most about them.

Ultimately, I did bring him the bottle from my table to make small amends for my faux-pas, one which I understood to be more significant than I had taken it to be when I read that “Ozzie” Osborn Elliot was not only The Founder of this evening’s host organization, but also quite a media magnate as well, for he was not only a former Newsweek editor-in-chief, but also the former dean at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Six Degrees of Separation
Moreover, while we were in school at SIPA it was rumored that Alec himself was already somewhat famous. For it was said that “Six Degrees of Separation,” the John Guare play that was later made into a movie starring budding rap star-cum-actor Will Smith, was in fact about Alec’s family.

As the story goes, Six Degrees was inspired by the true story of David Hampton, a teenage African-American hustler who conned his way into the homes of Manhattan's white upper-class elite.

Born and raised in the suburban bore of Buffalo, New York, David was a star-struck and unhappy teen when he arrived in New York City in 1981. Desperate to stake his claim as an aspiring artist, one night he and a friend were trying to get into the renowned Studio 54, the darling nightclub of the Disco era in New York City, and they decided to wing it. David’s friend decided to pose as Gregory Peck's son, while David went along with the posture, pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier. Striking a lode of fool’s gold, they were ushered in as celebrities.

Suddenly David realizes he has a secret passageway into the glamorous life and he begins assuming and abusing his new persona by telling restaurant managers he was there to meet his father, Sidney Poitier; subsequently beguiling a free meal, after his father conveniently becomes “detained on business.”

However, the authorities soon caught up with David, and in October 1983 he is arrested for being an imposter who swindled more than a dozen people into letting him in to their homes. Those he duped included Melanie Griffith; Gary Sinise; Calvin Klein; Jay Iselin, the president of WNET; and tonight’s host—Osborn Elliot. He had persuaded some by saying that he was a friend of their children, others by claiming that he had missed his plane to LA with all his luggage on board, and still others with the lie that his money and belongings had been stolen. Most gave him money in return for his beguiling performance.

My friend Alec happened to be one of those friends that happened to be away, and John Guare the playwright, happened to be a friend of two of the subsequently duped hosts – Osborn and Inger Elliott who were quite upset when they found this "celebrity" in bed with another man the morning after they graciously let him into their home. After thoroughly investigating Hampton’s case, Gaure concluded that David’s story, a young man obsessed with the creation of celebrity, would be the ideal subject for a play. He was particularly fascinated by the notion of "who we let into our lives." And thus a star was born when Six Degrees of Separation opened at Lincoln Center in May 1990, and immediately became an overnight sensation.

16 Years Later
Fast-forward 16 years later and here I am, somewhat of a poser myself, regaling my connection to the head table to a virtual stranger.

Nonetheless and allthemore, my shameless name-dropping was merely a moment of my conversation with him, and in a way my anecdote about my amity was still quite genuine, as I did feel a sort of strange affection for this wayward couple somehow, if only by association, if only by affectation, and those small pockets of partying we did together.

Feeling caught up in the moment, beaming with the same sort of false sense of pride I had during my ride up Park Avenue, after Keith commented upon the quaint effectiveness of Tom’s speech and the influx of those ambitious souls who migrate here to make their mark, I gushed in similitude by quoting E. B. White, a native New Yorker and the author of Charlotte's Web:

...There are roughly three New Yorks...the city of those born here, the city that some commute to and the city of those born elsewhere...

Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last - the city of final destination, the city that is a goal...

Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.

I beamed with a flush of pride as I bastardized White’s words, making up for what I omitted with a firmly clenched fist that punctuated the word “passion,” the utterance of which almost always magically invigorates me, and makes me want to go out and conquer the world.

Nuclear Flatulence
Although Tom Brokaw’s story about his humble beginnings proved mysteriously comforting at the moment of their recollection, it should have been no surprise when I rummaged through the evening’s swag bag later on that I would find a copy of his latest memoir A Long Way From Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland in the Forties and Fifties.

The book would prove helpful later on when I tried to recall the portent of events and the flurry of thoughts that were piqued by the evening’s affair. I wanted to be true to Brokaw’s words, so that I could convey how I was inspired by them in this musing, and so I was grateful to discover that his book actually retold the story he had seemingly conveyed extemporaneously at the podium - verbatim.

I thought “What a set-up!” and laughed, knowing that I’d been had, that his performance was not as spontaneous as it seemed, and that it was but a glean, a gleaming subtle pitch for his book. Regardless, I got over it, and I was just as quick to appreciate the smooth work of this veteran salesman. And I subsequently mused that it is no wonder that critics are so often wary of the power of the media.

Nonetheless, the very next day, instead of returning to my desk as I normally do, I decided to eat my lunch down in the commons so that I could devote the hour to reading Brokaw’s book, in particular, the chapter ending with this story on his first time in New York City. Following is my favorite excerpt:

“One of my favorite hangouts was a combination pool hall and bar called Bud’s Snooker. It has eight snooker and pool tables arranged in one row in a long, narrow room that always smelled of tobacco smoke and stale beer. The bar served ten-cent glasses of beer (sometimes mixed with tomato juice), cold Polish sausages, and hardboiled eggs—a wicked prescription for nuclear flatulence.”

Российские Проститутки
At the end of the evening, after the obligatory round of goodbyes and pleasure-to-have-met-yous we all headed for the exit where we received the standard swag bag. The black canvas tote-bag included Sponge Bob toothpaste and toothbrush, a special edition of the Vanity Fair March issue co-edited by Tom Ford, Tom Brokaw’s memoir, a sample of Li-Lac chocolates, a box of Estée Lauder pleasures perfume, and Zagat’s 2006 Guide to America’s Top Restaurants.

As I was about to exit of the hotel I was stopped by an attractive blond who asked “So what are you going to do now?” Her forward approach took me by surprise a bit, but my easily persuaded ego nudged me, pushed me really, into her Venus trap.

She explained that she had noticed that we had attended the same event, pointing to the bag strapped across my shoulder with her long snow white fingernails, and continued to lure me by saying, “My girlfriend and I want to go to Cipriani, but we don’t want to go alone. They’re having a Pink Panther premiere party over there, and so we need some company.”

Immediately I began calculating in a mad tizzy the risks and lurid possibilities—“Fairly attractive blond young girl with an accent baiting me, much more attractive girl on the couch waiting for me to take the bite, I just happen to be free for the night, and I’m dressed to the nines and feeling quite dashing….Alas, I have no money, I’m already taken and quite committed, who knows what these women are really up to, and besides, I’m not the wealthy man that these alluring dames are probably betting that I might be.”

Meanwhile, as I’m swooning in the heat of this moment, the girl keeps asking me all kinds of questions to keep me off-balance and vulnerable.

“Where do you live?”

“Upper East Side,” I lie, surmising that she doesn’t really want to hear the truth—“Bloomfield, New Jersey.”

Of course, she replies, “Oh, yeah, me too,” and for a moment I fear she’ll uncover my ruse.

Luckily though, she moves on and asks for my business card.

Again, I bold-face lie and tell her that “I’m all out,” the truth being that I quickly assessed that she probably wouldn’t be interested in a measly communications manager. For a mere split-second of a moment I consider giving her my photographer’s calling card, which has my trademark photo of a pair of hands holding up a happy face, but I just as quickly figure that she would likely burst out laughing, and that I would feel like a sad and stupid party clown.

Besides, I was quickly coming to understand that she wasn’t interested in getting to know me or any semblance of the “real” me. No, I construed that what she really wanted to see was a card that said “investment banker,” “Vice President” or some other title that indicated that I might be able to afford a spontaneously sumptuous evening out in New York City with two beautiful girls in tow.

Surprisingly though, after a pause, she rushed to offer me hers—“Nicola” at Orion Capital Partners. However, after she crossed out both the phone number and e-mail address and wrote others in place of them, I was beginning to suspect that something was truly awry and then suddenly it dawned on me that I was likely being solicited by some high-priced Russian hookers who were taking advantage of the unsuspecting and desperately lonely well-to-do.

The next day I recalled this moment to my good friend Rayner, a producer at Dateline NBC, and he agreed that I had likely assessed quite correctly, for on several occasions during his recent assignments around the country he had noticed and confirmed that there are a lot of Russian prostitutes who hang out in hotel lobbies and bars these days.

Ultimately, I realized that I couldn’t play this game with these women, ‘cause I just couldn’t con them in the same way that they were trying to wile me. Besides, I really wasn’t that interested anyway. So, I said I “had to go” and ultimately ended up using her card to pick out the raw bits of filet mignon from my teeth as I stood in the bus line at midnight to go back to Jersey.

Vanity Fare
A mere seven hours later as I was taking the same bus back into Manhattan, I perused through the issue of Vanity Fair that had come in the gift bag. Immediately I was swooned into fancying the glimmer and pining for the glamour of the glossy pages that I was skimming. I realized the fallacy of my trivial pursuit and stepped back to ponder how facile it is for celebrity rags to pull us in and sell us on a life we do not have.

For not only were the 365 pages rife with advertisements, enticing innocent consumers to “be somebody,” if only by material affiliation, but there’s also the chock full of photo essays and exposés that convey how the rich and famous live quite unlike most of us. And thus they prey upon our innate desire to be what we are not, what we vacuously delight in feigning to be, yearning to be fawned upon and seen in the same celebrated spotlight that drew us in, in the first place.

It is no less ironic that the iconic nature of the celebrated heroes and heroines of Hollywood is based on pretense itself. That is that actors and actresses are lauded for being something and someone they are not, and that their roles in turn become the personas that many fans become infatuated with. For rarely do we see the real people who live behind the mask of the thespian. Unless, we accept those grossly prurient makeup-less portraits taken by prying paparazzi as representations of who they really are.

And yet, in our daily lives, we too act as actors do, because life is one big fat lie because truth is relative and so hard to swallow and dole out consistently when it does not always conform with what others erroneously expect of you.

The night before my swanky affair The New York Times Magazine published its lead article “The New Science of Lying.” A few excepts underline my point:

Each day we walk a fine line between deception and discretion. “Everybody lies, ”Mark Twain wrote, “every day; every hour; awake; asleep; in his dreams; in his joy; in his mourning.”

First there are lies of omission. You go out to dinner with your sister and her handsome new boyfriend, and you find him obnoxious. When you and your sister discuss the evening later, isn’t it a lie for you to talk about the restaurant and not about the boyfriend? What if you talk about his good looks and not about his offensive personality?

Then there are the lies of commission, many of which are harmless, the lies that allow us to get along with one another. When you receive a gift you can’t use, or are invited to lunch with a co-worker you dislike, you’re likely to say, “Thank you, it’s perfect” or “I wish I could, but I have a dentist’s appointment,” rather than speak the harsher truth. These are the lies we teach our children to tell; we call them manners. Even our automatic response “Fine” to a neighbor’s equally automatic “How are you?” is often, when you get right down to it, a lie….

“Lying is just so ordinary, so much a part of our everyday lives and everyday conversations,” that we hardly notice it, said Bella De Paulo, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “And in many cases it would be difficult, challenging and stressful for people to tell the truth than to lie.”

I, of course, am as human as everyone else and thus proved to be no exception to this wayward course of realizing our identities and so-called worth. For when I arrived home a little after one AM after the evening at the Waldorf, I too decided to indulge in a bit of acting, lying of sorts and plain old narcissistic Vanity Fare.

Feeling a bit empty since I had not fully and duly exploited my sporting look by going out on the town, I spontaneously decided to take advantage of the pompous costume by taking a set of vanity shots (i.e. “self-portraits”): Vanity Fare.

“Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.” ~ Mary Schmich

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