Friday, August 28, 2009
A Decade of Decadence
On August 28th, 2009, it will be ten years since I moved to New York City. To me that is unfathomable, as Vreeland would quip. But again, I can hardly remember the feeling of being 23. That seems like centuries ago that I was that insecure, confused and often oddly dressed boy. I do remember many moments of that time in my life. I remember leaving my apartment on Ponce de Leon Place bawling out of control leaving the love of my life, Rick. He had given me a pair of Tiffany cufflinks by Peretti and I sobbed and held them tight as he waved goodbye and my mother drove me towards the airport holding it all in for my sake.
I arrived in New York City feeling so alone. My cab drove through China Town where a street fight broke out and stopped traffic briefly. “Shit”, I thought, “what the fuck have I gotten myself into?” Kevin’s apartment was a five-floor walk up and not in the best shape but to me I had arrived. I had an apartment in New York! But the magic didn’t last.
I got to my new job at Jeffrey and was told my salary was to drop from $70,000 to $35,000. Sorry! And that was that. Why? Oh someone had simply over budgeted for the new stores salaries so mine had to be slashed. Swell. But working at Jeffrey was amazing. I was in WWD the first week I lived here quoted as the southern boy with a drawl who said, “I’m from the South, get into it!” And as archaic as it sounds, its true. Moving from Atlanta (or my Atlanta) to this dirty, loud, aggressive Yankee territory was one of the hardest things I have had to adjust to. Ok, Paris was no dream, but I managed. Mostly by getting stoned daily and wandering the halls of Versailles. And London was a breeze. People were civil! Fun! Well dressed! But New York…
My neighbor on 24th Street was called ‘Stompy Stomp’. She would wear platform shoes and stomp around her apartment all day and night. She was ugly and not nice. We would ask her kindly to be quiet and she would stomp faster. One day I dropped a picture I was hanging and it shattered on the floor. I was so sad and then she began stomping wildly. How dare I make such noise? At my wits end I picked up my hammer, went to her front door and beat on that goddamned door and screamed at her for what must have been five minutes straight. I became possessed. It was every mean cab driver, rude person in the street and shitty deli server all pouring out of my magnolia and mint southern veins. And you know what? It worked! She never stomped again. And I only heard about her one other time when my friend Maggie James was staying with me. She worked at Westwood (oh the halcyon days!) and she was getting ready for work one day in her bondage boots and Stompy actually came to my door and told her to be quiet. Maggie, having been warned about her, simply looked her in that face and said, “Fuck You!” WOW! It worked!
Like Seth Brundle in The Fly, my skin began to harden. A shell began to form. But quite honestly I didn’t like it. I didn’t want a hard skin; I didn’t want to have to be that person. I’ll never forget one time when I went to Port Authority (the most depressing place on the face of the earth) to catch a bus to Rhode Island to visit Anna and Price at RISD I asked the ‘Information Booth’ Lady where I could find the bus to my destination. She looked up at me, had spaghetti and red sauce oozing out of her mouth and said, “can’t you read the signs dumb ass?!” I was stunned. I simply took a deep breath and looked up at her with her slime falling onto her poly blend uniform and said, “Jesus loves you too.” I didn’t know what else to do but simply try to keep the faith.
I would take trips home and when it was time to fly back to New York I would get fetal in my bedroom over looking Lake Lanier. Poor Rick and my mother would hug me, hold me and give me the strength to go back to this hellhole I had moved to. Granted, there were highlights. I met loads of celebrities when I first moved here who would shop at Jeffrey. And at 23 that was exciting. The person I thought was the biggest celebrity who came to the store was Valerie Steele. When she walked in I about died! I kept telling people, “Look it’s Valerie Steele!!” Nobody knew who she was. I knew she was the curator of FIT Costume Institute and a fashion historian. When I went to school in London and studied fashion history my teacher would banter on about this or that for about ten minutes and then announce, “Well, Ms. Steele can explain it better than I can so here we go.” And for weeks on end I would watch videos of Dr. Steele explaining cod pieces, Rose Bertin, slashing and corsets. I’m not sure she was aware that a school in London was using her lectures to teach their students but she changed my life. To me, she was the first celebrity who I met.
There were other celebrities I met in my first year in New York: Diana Vreeland, Sarah & Gerald Murphy, Dorothy Parker, Peggy Guggenheim and Stephen Tennant. Reading biographies of these peoples lives, their time in New York, and the landmarks that they called home and haunted helped me see the prettier, more elegant side of New York. I would imagine I was a friend of Parkers running into the ‘Gonk’ for a martini. I would imagine I was Mr. Murphy on my way to Mark Cross on Park Avenue and I would imagine I was an assistant to Vreeland when I passed the Met on an errand. I would dress in a suit for a night out at a dirty East Village Bar and it made me feel good and in turn people began to notice me. 1) As the well-dressed kid sticking dollars in the go-go dancers thong 2) the loudest laugh anywhere 3) The one who was always ready to shake and shimmy till the wee hours. 10 years later I don’t think much has changed.
Someone told me that you must give New York two years and that one day, without consciously thinking about it, you will fall in love. Those first two years were incredibly difficult. Moving, missing my boyfriend, finding out fashion isn’t as Vreeland knew it anymore and searching for myself in this melting pot was not easy. I think I was the last of my friends to actually get a cell phone and I went through four jobs in that short time. But I will never forget I was on 5th Avenue, alone, at dusk and I gazed over the park to the deco towers of the Wild West side and my heart grew warm and a massive smile took over my face. I was home. I couldn’t leave. It was my time.
Ten years later I still pinch myself when I wake up. My room at the top of a castle in Harlem is my bachelor boudoir a la Rhett Butler come true. My housemates are some of my closest friends in the world. If it wasn’t for Rod and Philip I would have never experienced India where I realized I must attempt to become a journalist. Nor would I have experienced the Hamptons the same way in Jamie Drakes Bentley, nor would I have ever met Isabella Blow at La Caprice where I was tipsy enough to ask her to touch my cock. And she did, caressing the cockerel on the side of my Rod Keenan hat. And of course there is Frankie, who if he did not live with me, I would not be hip to any ghetto lingo or the newest technology in makeup and who I am so proud of. We have come a long way from the ‘Junior Mafia’ in Atlanta.
My career still has me questioning, “How the hell did this happen?” Working at the coolest PR firm in the world where I have met a group of people who have become family, to my days lounging in caftans at home researching pitches and pounding out interviews with people I never thought I would get to meet. I haven’t become the President of the National Arts Club yet, nor do I have a column in Vanity Fair but hey, slow and steady wins the race.
Then there are the friends I have met here. Mark and Mary who approached me at a Westwood after party assuming I would be some snob and then latched onto them the rest of the night in my kimono, waistcoat and Westwood patent pumps. Having Beatrice Greer, their daughter as my goddaughter has grounded me more they can imagine. Spending weekends with her in the Hamptons and running around with her on Easter Sunday searching for eggs at First Presbyterian are such highlights for me. I can’t wait till she is old enough to go shopping and have brunch at Bergdorf.
Then there is Mr. Giunta who has experienced more adventures with me than anyone else. Wild weekends at Art Basel, boozy ranch rides on the hunt for Zebras at Big Daddy’s ranch and the countless nights out in New York, which, together, we seem to conquer the world.
I recently bought a bike. Ok, my mother bought if for me for my 33rd birthday. I adore Felton, that’s my bikes name. We zizz down the Westside highway with a cool breeze off the Hudson blowing though my straw cap. Over the summer I have forgone the gym to take Felton for a spin around Central Park. I notice the grand monuments, the museums and the sculptures but now instead of imaging them as part of the world of Vreeland or some other iconic New Yorker I realize they are part of my world. It was over there in that alley of trees that Kevin and I wandered through new fallen snow. It was in that great lawn where I first saw a spark with Adam and Tali. And there is the Plaza where mother and I went for a last drink in the Oak bar and did an impromptu photo shoot on a grand piano before the old Plaza shut its glorious doors.
A funny thing happened just last week. I was on my way from a charity meeting in Tribeca to the West Village to watch my friend Annabelle win $125,000 on the reality show- The Fashion Show. I waved down a cab and gave him my destination. He lurched off and had his ‘Spanish to English’ lesson tapes blasting full blast. I dealt with it for a moment then asked if he could turn it down. He barked, “No way! You turn off that fucking TV in the back of the cab! I have to learn English!” Well it sounded to me like he had a pretty good grasp of the language to me. So with a bit of force I slammed the plastic partition shut. He screamed, “Why the fuck did you do that! What the fuck are you doing to my cab!” I just sat there and said, “What have I done wrong? What happened to the passenger being right?” “Asshole!” he yelled, pulled over and told me to get the fuck out. And I did. I stood there in silence. The southern boy coming back to his roots of confusion over the harshness of this city. Then I grinned, picked up my phone, called 411 and said, “Yes, I would like to make a complaint about car 2J 3R. He asked me to get out because he wanted to play his English lessons at full blast.” “Oh my how rude!” the woman said with a little tsk tsk, “would you like to file a complaint and take him to court? You know you can go to taxi court by phone these days!” As I held my head up high and waved down another cab I laughed and said, “Go on then. Lets do this!”
Ten years later there are still bumps in the road, still moments that make me flinch, but the positives outweigh the negatives and now I know how to take them in stride.