Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hob-nobbing among the elite

Tonight I worked at a very schmancy old-NYC-money charity event. So schmancy that none of my friends and colleagues I mentioned it to had even heard of the charity, or the venue at which the event was held. It's a perfectly worthy cause, but not the sort that will be sending you free return address labels and asking for 25 bucks this holiday season. It's not my world.

There was a performance element to the evening, and that’s why I was there – brought in by an actor-director friend to stage manage, which here meant some brief liaising with the lighting and sound people, calling three cues, and getting an actress a cup of tea. Easy, easy money. Oh yes, I got paid, and very well. Charity or not, people this rich don't expect you to volunteer.

My part of things went very smoothly, and was a big hit with the crowd (though all the botox made it difficult for them to laugh). I got to meet a couple of actors I admire, and a very influential producer. I should have left it there.

The organizer of the evening, a very sweet, down-to-earth woman who I'd liked from our first meeting, asked me to stay for dinner. The first time she mentioned it, a few days ago via email, I made noise about possibly having another commitment, but when she asked again tonight it seemed rude to say no. And really who am I to turn down a free rich-people meal? They want to pay me and feed me? Twist my arm!

The food (and wine, and coffee) was splendid. The company...not so much. I was seated at a table with other people involved with the show, but between us were patrons. I guess the idea was to impress them with the stars so they'd give more money, but I was of course completely unrecognizable and had nothing to contribute to the conversation. I was also underdressed. I recently purchased an inexpensive (though far more money than I am wont to spend on clothes) but perfectly passable suit specifically because I've been working more and more charity and corporate events. It's great for standing in the back of the room by the light board, but entirely inappropriate for sitting down to dinner when every other man in the room is in a tux. I mean, they might have mentioned that when they extended the invitation for me to stay. I felt awkward and obvious enough as it was.

But okay, so there I was at dinner with the rich WASPs. On my left was a woman who happened to have an unusual and recognizable last name. Turned out her sister is a TV star. Beyond that vague connection to the arts, we had nothing to talk about. She kept asking me questions about what I do, but they weren't smart questions and she didn't seem all that interested in the answers. I tried steering the topic to her, but she didn't want to reveal much on that front either. Colleges came up, and she asked when I was at mine, and when I told her she acted like I was 20 years younger than her. She also mentioned having been at her firm for 25 years. This woman looked to be in her 30s, and she looked nothing like her sister. True, the lights were dim, but if work had been done, it was awfully good.

I wish the same could be said for the dead animal around her shoulders. Now, I'm against wearing fur in general, and for many reasons, but topping the list is that it's fucking creepy. Seriously, what would possess a woman to kill a fox and just drape it over her shoulders? Around her neck I could maybe understand, but it's not like this thing was keeping her warm. And it had a head. And its head was pointing at me. It's beady little glass eyes staring at me all through dinner. It was seriously disturbing.

Though not quite as disturbing as the woman on my right. This lady looked more or less her age (60s, I'm guessing), though in that artificial way of old-school cosmetic surgery. Nothing really moved properly. It was a wonder she could speak at all, the corners of her mouth were so tight. She had very nice, well-styled grey hair, and I thought what a shame it was that she might have been one of those beautiful, stately older women if she'd cared to be. Of course it was also a shame that she was dumb as a bag of rocks. Or maybe (since this crowd was doing so well at living up to all the stereotypes) she was just too drugged or drunk to speak intelligently. There was an amazing naïveté, and it was clear to me that this was a woman who had never needed to be smart, or even to think for herself. It was almost sad. Except for the way she kept trying to talk to me.

Oh, and the homos. Sad little society homos, forced to marry women so they'd get their inheritances. Let's not even talk about it.

There were several young-ish people there (though after my experience with the TV star's sister I have to wonder how true that is) and it took me by surprise. This kind of money and the events that go with it feel very old-fashioned to me. We were in a building designed and built in New York's golden age of Morgans and Whitneys and Carnegies. It's hard to imagine that still exists, and somehow when the people are old (though of course they're not that old) it makes sense. But of course they had children, and the society – real, old-school society, not the Paris Hilton kind – continues to this day.

I don't have a witty ending here. I'm sort of disheartened. It was an awkward evening. But I'm also excited to go back to my Broadway show tomorrow – it's a small one, relatively speaking, and it feels a little like art. I'm happy to sell out as a general rule, but on a night like tonight it's nice to know I'm somewhere I belong doing something I believe in, and I don't have to wear a tie. And hey, when I get the rich-people-charity's check in the mail, I'll cash it with a smile.