I saw someone this morning who brought up an unpleasant incident that happened over thirty-five years ago, an event I’ve taught myself never to think about.
I had only met Joel once at a party Buffy, I’ll call her, had at her four-story townhouse on East 62nd Street. She was a rich girl I knew whose mother married a famous Hollywood director that she used to the hilt as currency to meet men. The trouble was, Buffy wasn’t all that attractive. Not that she wasn’t pretty, just overweight and very sloppy. Her mother would pull me aside and beg me to help her, but it ran much deeper than dieting and Dove. Buffy was one angry girl raised by a mother who only saw dollar signs, never love. I remember her telling me, “Susannah If you don’t date poor men you’ll never end up with one.” It was like telling Bambi to steer clear of the headlights. Money was not my aim at twenty…I wanted to be wanted by someone who knocked off my tights, so to speak.
She was the one coaxing Buffy to give this lavish party, to invite all the eligible men who basically weren’t interested in her. Her mother threatened to fly in from L.A and make all the arrangements if Buffy didn’t make them herself.
I was recruited to help.
The night in question was packed full of wanting women and successful Jewish men. I, along with the caterer, may have been the only shiksa present, and did I stand out. Buffy got mad because I looked too nice. I recall what I wore…it was my after dark uniform…black cotton capris, a white fitted blouse and little black flats. It was the onset of my Audrey period, and though Buffy tried to emulate it, she didn’t look quite the same.
Joel back then was truly tall, dark and handsome with a nose that made him look like an elegant prizefighter. He was standing by the baby grand piano drinking a martini when our eyes first met. It was one of those bolts of lightening that started in your groin and had to work its way up so you’d know what to do next.
I was modeling then but not making a fortune so next to the trust funds in the room, I was Little Orphan Annie, Buffy’s one weapon against me.
When she saw me talking to him she had a fit, summoning me over to presumably tell me something important. She actually had the nerve to ask me to pass the cheese balls. I declined, but couldn’t dodge her anger. “I didn’t invite you so you could snag the best guy in the room,” she said. “Who do you think you are anyway, you’re not even Jewish.”
This is was when I realized, we weren’t even friends.
Ignoring the attack, I went back over to Joel who asked for my number. My discomfort was great after my distorted redress and figuring I’d see him again anyway, I quietly left. Little did I know what would happen next.
Buffy, determined to make sure nothing good came out of this, called the next day to tender an apology. She said, “You know Susannah, I talked this over with my mother and we both felt it was only right to tell Joel the truth.”
“That both your parents are drunks and you haven’t any money of your own. And most of all, you’re not Jewish.”
If nothing else, he must have known I wasn’t Jewish, but then again, men can be dense. I was stunned but thought, he’s not going to listen to this…or is he?
It gets even better. She then said, “My mother likes you so much that she told Joel he should make you an attractive offer. He’ll take you out a couple of times a month, you can wear all those little dresses you get for free from all those Seventh Avenue people you work for, and so there’s no misunderstanding, he’ll pay you three hundred dollars each time. Think of it, you’ll have a little nest egg of your very own.”
My naivety ran so deep back then I still didn’t get what she was implying. “Why on earth would he pay me?” I asked, like Dorothy in Munchkin Land.
“Because you’re not a Jew Susannah and there could never be anything between you. So the money makes it fair. He’ll get sex which, let’s face it, is the only thing he wanted from you anyway, and you can’t expect anything to develop. Everybody’s happy.”
Now I am paraphrasing since it happened so long ago, but I remember the wound as though it were inflicted yesterday. She and her mother weren’t going to quit until I was cut down to size and if I ever told my own mother what they proposed, she’d be on the next train with a baseball bat.
“So how bout it, can I tell Joel he has a deal?”
“You can tell Joel and your mother, I’m just not that kinda girl.”
When I saw him this morning badly aged and sullen, I wondered what I wondered then. Did he ever even know about this or was it just the cruel machinations of a mother and daughter desperate to oust an innocent, pretty girl.
But we’ll never know now we’ll we.
New York can be a tough town alright…and I guess you can say…
I’ve survived it.