Saturday, July 3, 2010

"Lifestyles of the rich (and the famous)..."

Thursday, June 24

The day begins with pancakes.  And not just your everyday Plain Jane pancakes.  Mine are chock-full of blueberries and cinnamon, then topped with fruit salad.  Here's what I did:

Follow the directions for your regular buttermilk pancakes, then dump in about 3/4 cup blueberries and cinnamon to taste.  Fold, being careful not to squish the blueberries too much.  Cook in a pan or on a griddle as usual.  Top with your favorite fruit salad.  I use 1 to 1 1/2 cups strawberries and 1/2 a Braeburn apple, tossed with a little cinnamon and sugar.  Delicious!

With no callbacks for Oklahoma or Karate Tango, today is wide-open.  I spend the morning making breakfast, hunting for auditions online and emailing headshots and resumes for what they call “photo requests” (if they like your look and your experience, they’ll call you to schedule an audition).  I put my feelers out there for anything that even remotely requires my type—Equity and non-equity, film, TV, stage, and musicals.  So much of this is a numbers game; I’ll put my name on anyone’s list.

Around 2pm, I leave for the West Side.  Somewhere along the line, I get lost in the subway system.  In an attempt to regain my sense of direction and get to where I want to be, I exit the station at Seventh Avenue and 50th Street.  As I climb the stairs to the street, my gaze is drawn upwards at the enormous stone church directly across the street.  I begin to sense a trend and a bit of God’s humor— St. Thomas Church is the second church I’ve found while being completely lost.  It’s an absolutely stunning Episcopal parish with what seems to be an excellent regular choral program.  I look at their music events for the rest of the summer and highlight a concert with Palestrina’s “Sicut Cervus.”  I sang it with the Whitworth Choir my freshman year while on tour in Colorado.  I’m not missing this one.

I eventually make my way to the Bryant Park neighborhood and register for a library card at the Mid-Manhattan New York Public Library.  It’s six floors and full of more than I could ever read or listen to.  And that’s not even the biggest library in town.  The mother of all libraries, with 15 million items in its collection (everything from children’s literature to medieval manuscripts, Japanese scrolls, baseball cards, and comic books), is the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (pictured) just across the street.  Equally astounding, albeit lacking the architectural grandeur of the Schwarzman Building, is the Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  But I’ll see that later this week.  With my new library card in hand, I carefully search shelf after shelf of the nonfiction section for just one cookbook to take home.  I don’t want to lug around more than that in my purse tonight.  I have to look put-together, not over-eager.  Because my grandma has this friend…

Susan Thomas (name changed) is a millionaire.  I’m not kidding.  She lives on the waterfront in Laguna Beach, and two years ago, her family bought two—count them, two—apartments in the newly-renovated Plaza Hotel.  Yes, that Plaza.  Like in Home Alone.  One of the apartments sold for $5.8 million.  That’s a lot of zeroes.  Anyway, my grandma got so excited when she heard I was going to be in New York that she gave me Susan’s phone number and insisted I call.  Susan was expecting a call from me, she said.  Via voicemail phone-tag, Susan and I made plans to have dinner sometime after June 21.  Grandma was so anxious to set me up with her millionaire friend who surely has connections that she called me three times in one day to make sure I’d followed through.  Yes, Grandma.  I’m prepared to schmooze. 

Dressed in what I call my Islander maxi-dress (the one I wore to the Theatre Department BBQ), I make my way to Fifth Avenue and Central Park South.  Across the street from the Plaza, hundreds of people are standing in line around the Apple Building.  They’re waiting for the new 4G iPhone.  Total insanity.  You’d think they were hosting a Twilight premiere or something.

The Plaza, grand as it is, is not such a massive place compared with much of New York’s buildings.  But I still manage to get lost.  I enter on the hotel side and am redirected to the residential lobby.  The place is a maze of shiny oak molding, marble floors, and glass doors.  There are shops and restaurants and cafes and about a dozen different elevators.  It takes me a few minutes to get to where I’m going and when I arrive at the inside entrance to the residential lobby, I have to knock on the massive glass doors.  The concierge turns to look over his shoulder at me, bounces out from behind the desk, and flies to unlock the door for me.  “Hi, I’m Mollie McComb. I’m here to—”  “Oh, yes.  Mollie.  They told me to expect you.”  “I’m a few minutes early for my six o’clock dinner appointment, so can I just wait here a bit before you call them?”  “Of course.”  The lobby is deserted.  An enormous arrangement of wine-colored stargazer lilies drenches the room in their fragrance.  And I feel dwarfed in the oversized, expensively upholstered armchair upon which I perch myself.  I pull a comb from my purse and try to discreetly brush through my wind-tousled hair.  Rich people make me nervous, I think.  I feel like whispering and folding my hands and avoiding eye contact.  Sheesh.  It’s just a hotel.

Before long, Susan steps out of the elevator to my left.  I haven’t called, but she’s  come to collect me anyway.  She greets me with a handshake and we take the elevator up.  In the apartment, I meet her husband and am given a brief tour of the apartment.  For $5.8 it’s not so incredible, actually.  There are wood floors, vaulted ceilings, crown molding, nice light fixtures, and big windows overlooking Central Park.  I’m sure the kitchen is gourmet, and they’ve furnished the place nicely, but anywhere else, an apartment like this would sell for a fraction of the price.

Susan sits me down with a fizzy lemon drink, and we make small talk until her daughter and granddaughter arrive.  Soon, they’re bursting through the door with frenzied apologies for being late.  I don’t mind at all.  They go to the kitchen and put together a plate of cheese and crackers and grapes, and we munch for a while as they quiz me about my time in the city so far, as well as my plans for the summer.  Susan’s granddaughter, Kelsey (name changed), seems nice.  She’s a year older than me and a graduate of Columbia.  Together, the three of them look like most of the Southern California women I know: blond, tan, and wrinkling prematurely, with impeccable matching manicures and pedicures.  They’re very nice, and I don’t feel under-dressed, which puts my nerves at ease.  The conversation actually goes quite well, and we soon head downstairs for dinner. 

A new restaurant, The Plaza Food Hall, just opened two weeks ago, headlined by some celebrity chef named Todd English.  The girls have gone there every night this week.  We order a small gourmet pizza with kalamata olives, goat cheese, and tomato to start.  More small talk centers on school and nightlife and our travel experience.  “Your grandmother seems to travel a lot.  Does she visit Seattle often?”  Ick.  “Um…she does travel a bit, usually with other people, but she says she doesn’t like to fly alone…So we don’t see her very often.”  A pause.  Sipping wine.  “Well, your grandmother is just the loveliest person.”

After the pizza, there’s a shrimp cocktail, grilled squid (very good!), several glasses of Merlot, and a plate of sushi.  Somewhere along the way, there is a call from the airlines about a credit card problem with Kelsey’s brother and his upcoming flight to New York.  The situation is fraught with a sense of entitlement.  But the travel agent can’t give them what they want.  Susan comments, haughtily, “Oh, she has an accent.  She doesn’t speak English.”  I've heard those ignorant sort of sentiments before.  Too many times.
Round dinner out with a slice of cheese cake and two coffees, and the bill comes to $146. I nearly choke.  I ask for a box for my cheesecake and save half of it for leftovers tomorrow.

It’s nice to make conversation and eat a fancy meal on someone else’s ticket, but as I walk away from dinner at the end of the night, a few things stick with me, making the overall experience just so-so.  Susan complained excessively about the hideous chandeliers in her bedrooms (which I thought were lovely), and her daughter got really uptight about the service at dinner because the waiters kept checking on us and trying to clear our plates.   I didn’t mind at all.  Besides, they’re still getting the kinks out of a new system.  And after Susan’s comment about the travel agent’s accent, any feelings of middle-class inferiority I may have had melted away.  That sort of lifestyle, where people walk around feeling entitled to perfection just because they have a lot of money in the bank, is the last thing I would ever want.  If this is what having money means, I hope I’m never rich.

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