Today's Reading


October 10, 2014

Death is colorful in the fall. The trees in Central Park bristle with red and gold leaves, like a beautiful dawn before the dark of winter. On this crisp, sunny October day in New York, I'm all dressed up for a lunch to which I'm definitely not invited. I want to look my very best. I'm wearing a tailored St. Laurent black wool suit, one I bought in Paris years ago when Yves was still designing. Affixed to my right lapel is a fake gold and sapphire pin in the shape of a flower, a decent copy of the real one from Verdura I had to hock years ago because I was broke. I have on a pair of secondhand black patent leather Louboutin shoes with scuffed red soles I recently bought at a thrift shop just for this occasion. I think labels matter much too much in New York. But, alas, they do matter, and I'm on my way to a place where they matter most.

I whisk a comb through my bobbed graying hair and apply a little lip gloss to my lightly made-up face. It's not an unattractive face, just an older one, silted with apprehension. I'm satisfied I look like what I'm supposed to be: a middle-aged lady of means with a conservative sense of style. I re-check the contents in my faux Birkin bag to make sure I have everything I need. It's all there: wallet, glasses, compact, lipstick, comb, cell phone, gun.

My name is Maud Warner. I grew up in New York. Many of the girls I went to private school with lived in the grand houses and apartment buildings of the Upper East Side. My parents' duplex apartment at 1040 Fifth was stocked with fine antiques and paintings. I never thought about how rich we were. No one in my young world thought about such things. Money and possessions were simply the view we'd all grown up with, like farmland to a bunch of country girls. We wore uniforms in my all-girls school so there wasn't the egregious sartorial competition there is today. The only thing I knew for sure was that the girl sitting next to me in class was probably just as miserable as I was.

I pass several haunts of my youth: The Knickerbocker Club, where I attended my very first dance when I was twelve years old and sat like a wallflower until the bitter end, despite having learned how to do a mean foxtrot in dancing school....A La Vielle Russie, the elegant jewelry shop on the corner of 59th, where my stepfather bought me a Faberge pin for my twenty-first birthday which had belonged to one of the last Tsar's kids—so much for a good luck charm... F.A.O. Schwartz, where my beloved Nana took me to sit on Santa's knee every Christmas...The now-defunct Plaza Hotel, where Mummy and I had tea in the Palm Court once a month, and where I lost my virginity to a Harvard boy in a white and gold suite on the tenth floor after he plied me with mai tais from Trader Vic's...And lovely Bergdorf's, where I bought my coming out dress and the wedding dress I burned when I got divorced, plus so many of the clothes that enhanced the great and small occasions of my seemingly privileged
life... Tiffany's, where I ordered my pale blue monogrammed stationery... And Trump Tower, which used to be Bonwit Teller, the old department store, where I had my first summer job in the gift department, and learned that the road to h ell was actually paved with beaded flowers and gilded frames.

I pass Saint Patrick's Cathedral, where I always went to light candles for the dead. I walk in and light a candle for my beloved brother, Alan, recently deceased. He was the last of my family and one of the main reasons for this outing.

I cross over to Madison Avenue, then Park, where I pause to look up at the elegant Seagram's Building, my final destination. My stepfather knew the architect, Mies van der Rohe. My parents had many famous friends. Their glamorous parties were so packed with celebrities, I used to refer to myself as "the only person there I didn't know."

I turn down 52nd Street toward Lexington and stop at the entrance to The Four Seasons restaurant, that bastion of social climbing in Manhattan. I take a bracing breath and walk purposefully inside. As I climb the marble staircase, I hear the hum of conversation, which is the music of power in this power restaurant in this power city. I gird my loins, as the Bible says, and take the last few stairs up into the airy restaurant where the best tables are reserved for the best bank accounts.

I'm greeted by the famous maître d', who knows who is who and who is not. This guy can size up a customer before he or she has reached the top step. That's why I've taken care to dress well. He doesn't recognize me, thank God.

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