Monday, June 22, 2009
After a heckuva travel schedule for the past 2 weeks, combined with having NO internet at home thanks to AT&T's failed network (thanks iPhone users) and Sprint deciding that my account no longer exist (I prepaid annually, and they canceled the account, oops), I decided to get back into the swing of the social scene I have ignored for many months.
Mind you this: I prefer to be amongst normal people. While I strive for aristocracy of sorts, I tend to abhor most of the people in the upper echelon of society. So many of them are merely inheritors of vast wealth and power, and few know what to do with it other than spend it on ridiculous social causes that are not bettered by their charity.
Still, the invitations arrive at my doorstep by courier, and I always RSVP my desire to come but my inability to join their ranks due to prior commitments. Basically, I lie.
This past Friday happened to be an event I wanted to attend to: it was held in Chicago, a few of my friends and even a few ex-lovers would be in attendance, and I had my eyes on a certain possible client that I've been trying to meet face-to-face for at least a decade. He would be there, so I sent my first RSVP in the positive back in February.
I recall the invitation clearly (thanks more to my notes than to my actual memory). It arrived neatly wrapped and hand-delivered by a competent courier. The invitation, printed by letterpress on beautiful card stock and placed in a wooden case that I now use as a cigarette holder by my old bedside, looked to cost more than most people spend on their entire wedding invitation set. For one.
The response card was gorgeous, and instead of an address for reply it included a phone number for the very courier who I faced upon receipt of the invitation. He laughed when I answered the door, for a multitude of reasons:
1. He never delivered invitations to ghetto apartments,
2. He had been ignored on other recent invitations to my address,
3. I was wrapped in a bath towel.
I signed the invitation response for myself plus one with only my name and title. When I called the courier, he arrived the same day to retrieve my response card and told me it would be returned to the hostess that same evening. I filed a note for myself to remember the event, with notices blaring at me 2 weeks, 1 week and then 3 days before the event.
Saturday had come, and I was fighting the urge to avoid it. Still, my Berluti Rapiécés Reprisés shoes were freshly polished (with Champagne, if you'd believe it). My cuff-links, a flair long forgotten by the equivalent of the peasant class of men in America (read: all men), were freshly recast on my last trip to the Middle East, showing a prominent glitter and shine with sharp edges made of 22K gold. My favorite dress shirt, a purple filigree patterned linen and cotton blend, was neatly pressed and starched by my launderer. My pants were a basic flat front cotton in deep charcoal grey/black.
My jacket is a masterpiece hand-tailored in the House of Lacroix in Paris, one of three in existence. The other 2 jackets are owned by a famous actor and a more famous musician, so I am in good company that I was one of 3 people chosen to wear the frock of silk and cotton, patterned with hand stitched florals of shiny silver thread. It is a jacket that causes an outrage when I wear it amongst the huddled masses. Considering its cost, I wouldn't deign to wear it should a drunken belligerent spill their swill on it.
I contemplated a vest, but the humidity of Chicago would leave me sweating, something I prefer to resist when amongst the socially graceful. I clipped my own fingernails and presented even my cuticles to others in a neat and manicured fashion. I contemplated hiring a car for the evening, but remembered the great glee of others when they see my disheveled, rusty and bent decade-old vehicle parked among the Porsches and Bentlys as the valet accepts our vehicles and returns with our keys and a location card.
Before I left, I grabbed my signature paperstock: a fine golden linen crafted in Chicago by one of the remaining papercraftsmen who still understands that an inkwell pen draws best on parchment with short fibers and crisp strength. I quickly signed my name along with my title and placed it into my chest pocket, followed by a handkerchief of exquisite design that my grandfather had left me as my only inheritance, on my request.
As I left my small apartment, I realized I was venturing into a world that does bring me joy, but only for short periods of time, and infrequently at that. Like great sex, it is better to resist the urge to ruin an irregular passion through regular mingling of flesh and soul and heart and conversation: intercourse. My closely trimmed beard was perfectly set, my small circle glasses a la John Lennon were on my face, a pair I hadn't worn since the last engagement of this sort over 10 months ago.
I arrived in one of the best kept secret neighborhoods of Chicago: Astor. The home, a 20 room house with more bedrooms than exist in my entire apartment building, was already crowding inside, visible through the windows, but the entry way was mostly empty short of the introduction chieftain who stood at the ready. The valet grabbed my car, shuffled it off down the street, and returned in 4 minutes with my keys and a note of its approximate location. I placed that card into my wallet, knowing I would likely not see the vehicle for more than 24 hours.
At the past event I attended, I left the coterie amongst peers higher in rank and class than I. The 5 other gents invited me to accompany them in their driven vehicle to a private airport, and we flew to a villa in a southern state for 2 days. Bacchus would have been proud, for sure.
Still, with Father's Day coming quickly and with my desire to grant Wisconsin with my presence on Saturday, I knew I would be reunited with my beloved vehicle quicker than the past event. I stepped towards the greeter, handed him my handwritten title and name card, to which he announced to 4 people in the foyer what was written: "Master Sane of Somewhere." One of the 4 people waiting to disrobe from their outerwear had heard the calling, turned and stepped forward to great me. An old friend from earlier days, someone I could call my equal at times, my superior at others, and possibly my inferior today.
"Sane, it is so lovely to see you again. You remember my wife, Bel?" I greeted the lady as one would, with a bow as I raised her hand closer to my shoulder level, looking squarely at her feet. As I rose from the bow, I shook Peter's hand, and he embraced me with a one-armed hug and a kiss on my cheek. A lady and her gentleman, obvious from their meticulous stance, the vague smile on her face as I smiled at her. Peter had been an assistant to a wonderful and long dead client of mine. We've shared many a cigar and aperitif over the years, but he had longed for privacy and retired from his job, happily stable with the investments he had made over his 40 years of working diligently up the company ladder, as well as the social ladder.
We promised to touch base soon, exchanging hand-written contact cards with one another. Another hug with Peter, another hand raise for Bel, and I withdrew into the tea room, due left from the large foyer with 3 floors of round staircase above, casted shadows and glare off the incredible crystal chandelier above.
It is odd attending social engagements without a female's presence, but unfortunately it is even odder for a bachelor to attend with a woman lacking stature. When I've had serious relationships, it would oftentimes end in battle when I refused to have my significant other accompany me to events. "But I'm your girlfriend." True, but you aren't my wife, and you aren't acclimated to society's respects of how one conducts themselves amongst their noble mien, amongst their carriage. "You and your big words." Exactly. How does one stand with a lady and then explain every third word that comes up in conversation? I've done it twice, and both times I promised myself never again.
I don't consider myself a snob, and those who have met me would probably agree. I am a chameleon, though, able to acquire the traits and talents and speaking style of those in front of me. When I am with vagrants in an alley, tossing dice to deprive them of dinner later, I have slur and slang that trounces that of the best navymen. When I am in the presence of royalty and the regal few, I stand with better posture, refrain from possessing a street accent or behavior, and attempt to provide entertainment through my distinct conversation. It's business, not pleasure. It's how I attract the attention of those rare few who don't only understand my career choice, but have need of it.
So I go alone. I contemplated ringing someone last week to accompany me, but after pursing through my list of available women and even unavailable women, I was unable to find even one who would possibly be able to join in the gaiety of the evening. Such troubles any man could want, but this man.
The party was jumping, but there was no movement in body or facial presence. The snobs of the elite don't smile often, except to show disgrace on the lesser folk (in their mind). A few single ladies had complimented me on my shoes or my jacket, knowing exactly who the designer was and the year of commissioning. I entertained two ex-lovers, both with their beaus, joining stories of parties attended internationally in the past.
I met with old clients, who introduced me to new possible clients. I drank amazing Champagne (Louis Roederer Cristal Brut, bottled in 1990) from even more amazing glassware (leaded crystal flute from d'Oro Presente, 1940s-ish). The barkeepers don't accept tips, as the valet didn't either. The tipple arrives on silver platters by men dressed in starched shirts of blue and vests of black. The flutes are thin and long, and I always fear breaking one as they probably cost the party throwers $200 a pop. Still, at night's end, I see the cleanup crew toss flute after chipped flute into the trash. Amazing.
An ex-lover, Angela, presents her beau Chandro, a man of impeccable dress and stature from Switzerland. He is obviously gay, but when we were together, she had a significant other who was openly gay. She slept with me, in private, since her and him never had seen each other naked. It's an acceptable premise when dealing with those who have to at least play "in love" in order to acquire whatever networking they feel they need. Myself, I'm happy to be considered a bachelor-at-large.
I joined Angela and her gentleman towards a room with a quartet of strings, playing a melodious concerto that I had no recollection of. "Telemann," said Angela. Ahh, Georg Phillip Telemann, to be more exacting. "Yes. 18th century man of mystery. Like yourself." Ugh. Angela always heard stories of my work, but never specifics. She dug and pillages and spelunked into my past, but could never retrieve the basic truth of what I did. I was mysterious then, and even more mysterious now, I guess. Her loss, my gain.
We parted ways as Chandro invited me to the cigar room. The cigar room is closed off to cell phones and pagers and PDAs and cameras. We enter, and the smoke-eater has prevented this room from clouding up. There is not a woman in sight, as is the case in most smoking rooms.
The person I was hoping to meet was seated, smoking a Fuente Chateau Maduro, my favorite cigar. As it is, I have that exact cigar in my pocket, and retrieve two for Chandro and myself. Mr. Afterwood, a mutual friend of the hopeful client and myself, sidles up to me as I light my cigar and then Chandro's. We sit with Afterwood at a small French-style metal outdoor table and chat about events. Chandro is exactly what I thought he was: gay and obvious about it. He glances over to another young attractive man, and they make eye contact for a moment. Then he takes his leave of our makeshift group. Afterwood stands and invites the gentleman I told him about, who gets off of the leather lounge chair and takes Chandro's place.
Introductions are made. Hand-written contact cards are exchanged. "I've heard of your success in Shanghai." I raise an eyebrow at that. Few know it was my job, my success. "I keep a close eye and a closer ear to things. Afterwood here tells me you have some interesting skills I may admire." I might. We should meet at a later date. "I'll call for you back home in months to come." I appreciate that and look forward to discussing your needs. With that, he bows his head, puts his cigar out, and leaves the room.
My entire point of attendance and it was over before I knew it. 10 minutes, tops. I assume he will call on me to meet him "at home," which is insider-speak for a city that is definitely NOT his home town. "Coral Gables, I bet," says Afterwood. Ahh. Understood.
We finish our cigar, and I turn to check on Chandro, who is now gone. Along with pretty-gay-boy as well. Poor Angela, such flagrant rupturing of social grace by this one. For those who are paying attention, I lit his cigar second as a kiss-off to the fact that not just is he below me in social rank, but far below me. It is common to lit the cigar of even an employee first. Lighting someone second can be a guffaw, but he took no notice.
I exited the cigar room and retrieved my cell phone. Champagne flowed. I was presented to a few people of political clout, but did not spend much time with them. I met a billionaire who had dropped off the face of the earth just 5 years ago. I was introduced to a lady of old peerage, a marchioness whose husband had died 40 years ago, leaving her the royal name that would end with her passing.
I'm a fan of the peerage: the lineage of princes and princesses, of viscounts and barons and marchesses and dukes. Because of family heritage, I have a title, but I don't own it as my father became the black sheep of our family. He left a family of wealth to come to America with no money of his own, no status, no help. He built his own middle class life, and I did not learn of my own royal heritage until I was 18. That's probably for the best. Still, I cling to my own line of blood on these rare occasions, as it does open doors and alleviate the frustration of finding work through nebulous means. By presenting a title to some, I can take amorphous frustrations and guide them into coherent joys.
As the Champagne flowed, my brain became the cloudy item I was focused on. Others were obviously drunk, some taking their leave before they'd pass out on an 18th century chaise lounge (or worse). I called for the doorman to whistle a cab, and late in the evening (or early in the morning) I stumbled my last goodbyes and goodnights, and ventured to a cab for a $40 cab ride ahead.
The next morning, I discovered my jacket and clothes hung properly, my cat sleeping against my shoes (she loves them), and my note table covered in hand-written cards with various names, numbers and contact information. I filed it all away in order of prominence, with many being filed directly to the trash. So many people met, but so few worth my time.
It's like my real social life amongst friends, people who don't take offense if I hiccup or cough into my hand instead of into my handkerchief. It's good to carry oneself among those who truly do control the world, but it is not my world they control. For me, it is merely an evening enjoying myself among many who could afford a life of passionate means but refuse to because they have no real culture of passion, just a taught culture of fraudulent passions.
Still, it grounds me, remembering that politics and economies are untrue. Democracies are a vulture, picking what is left of the meat of a dead animal, long after the wealthy and powerful have had their way. There is no truth to hope or change in society when one is middle class or worse.
It is because of this society of people that I took my career on the path I did. I could thank them, or I could hate them, but overall I am just glad to have the contacts I do, the conversations I do, and the respect I receive from those who don't really care much for me as a person.
It pays the bills.