Schnurnberger: THE BEST LAID PLANS
The Party to End All Parties
“Are the marzipan mummies too much?”
Anxiously I look around the Temple of Dendur—the two-thousand-year-old ancient Egyptian pantheon reconstructed brick-by-brick in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which we’re turning into a party room tonight for New York’s rich and famous. The setting seems appropriate. Diane von Fürs- tenberg, Mayor Bloomberg, Jay-Z, and all of my darling ?investment-banker husband Peter’s well-heeled clients should feel right at home among the statues of Cleopatra, King Tut, and the powerful sun god Ra—although I’m hoping they don’t read too much meaning into the temple’s wall paintings of vultures. Tea candles flicker and the faux topiary letters spelling out the reason for tonight’s fund-raiser, race against global warming, are flawlessly clipped and placed. My nightmares about them being lined up in the wrong order and reading car angst glob war—or, in the worst of my delusional anagrams, warm labia girl—were nothing more than the product of a too fertile imagination. Or Ambien.
A platoon of black-clad junior volunteers swirls around the ballroom with impeccably calligraphed place cards. I’ve spent months agonizing over the seating arrangements, but Rosie O’Donnell’s last-minute RSVP is throwing everyone into a tizzy. I knew that Hulk Hogan didn’t like her, but now that the readers of Parade magazine have voted Rosie “America’s Most Annoying Celebrity,” I have to worry about not seating her next to any of them, and the magazine has more than thirty million readers.
And then there’s the marzipan. Each of the eighty intimate tables for six has been swathed in gold cloth—600-thread-count Egyptian cotton, of course—and festooned with centerpieces of chocolate papyrus leaves and towering marzi- pan mummies that the guests can snack on for dessert. But although I haven’t so much as tasted them, the sugary sarcophaguses are giving me heartburn. Are they just a little too Hollywood-on-the-Nile? Why oh why didn’t I pick something safer, like simple glass bowls filled with peonies or the green orchids everyone’s raving about?
“There’s time,” I say, eyeing the trees in Central Park, just outside the museum’s pitched glass wall, as a quick check of my watch tells me that we still have twenty-six minutes until the first guest arrives. “We could chop down some branches and scatter the leaves in the middle of the tables.”
“Cut down trees? Not exactly in keeping with the global warming theme of the evening,” my friend Sienna Post laughs, a tinkling sound that bounces around the room like a ray of sunshine. It still surprises me when I turn on the six o’clock news each night and see Sienna sitting at the local anchor desk, although after all this time it shouldn’t. She’s smart and tenacious, a born newscaster. Plus, Sienna’s gorgeous. She has glowing porcelain skin, eyes as intensely blue as the night sky in an El Greco painting, and enough well-placed curves to stop traffic. I was named for Truman Capote, a short pudgy writer who ended up friendless. But Sienna’s mother named her after an Italian city known for its soft round hills and glorious light—and she lives up to the description. “Don’t worry,” Sienna says, looking around the room with a satisfied grin. “The mummies are inspired. You’ve done a great job, everything’s perfect!”
“Oh no, don’t say that!” I reach under one of the cheetah-covered couches that we’ve brought in for the party, searching for the sofa frame?—which is likely to be unvarnished and the closest thing to real bark—to knock on wood. “Never say ‘perfect’!”
“I swear, Tru, you’re the most superstitious person I know. If you spent as much time pitching baseballs as you do throwing salt over your shoulder you could be the next Derek Jeter.”
“Well, I have to have something to believe in. Being raised by the beauty queen Naomi Finklestein didn’t exactly nurture a sense of self-esteem.”
“Does Miss Subways May 1959 still pinch your cheeks when she sees you?” Sienna giggles, fussing with a napkin.
“Of course. ‘Tru, your color, you look like a dead salmon!’ she shrieks. And remember the story about the day I was born?”
“How could I forget?” Sienna laughs.
It was Easter morning and the nurse had fashioned the fuzzy pink corners of my swaddling blanket into bunny ears. Naomi took one horrified look and handed me right back.
“That’s not my baby!” she cried, refusing to set eyes on me again for another three whole days. “My husband and I are good-looking!”
Still, I guess some good came out of the whole thing because it was telling Sienna that story in the junior high school cafeteria that bonded us for life. “I’m sure you were adorable back then and you’ll be adorable now!” she’d declared, giving me a dab of Dep hair gel to sweep my badly cut bangs off my forehead. It was Sienna who taught me the importance of using conditioner, sweet-talked her own mother into paying for my braces, and who, as we got older, introduced me, literally, to the international world of beauty: Brazilian waxing, Thai massages, and Japanese hair straightening. With Sienna’s help I eventually got over Naomi constantly calling me an ugly duckling. I can even laugh about it now. Most of the time. The same way Sienna made me laugh about how my mother named me Truman. Not because she loved Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but because Truman Capote hosted the world’s most exclusive party, the famous Black and White Ball.
“That was some shindig. Everyone who was anyone in the world was there,” Naomi would say dreamily, as though, if she hadn’t been so inconveniently detained in Queens making dinner for my father, she would have been sipping mimosas at the Plaza Hotel with Frank Sinatra—or at least George Hamilton.
Watching Naomi has been an up-close cautionary lesson in the folly of chasing rainbows, of being resentful about what you don’t have and not appreciating what you do. Surely being Miss Subways and having your photo plastered in every New York City subway car for one whole month would lead to a life-changing call—from a casting agent, a modeling agency, or at the very least a rich suitor. But when that call didn’t come Naomi married my blue-collar dad—and until the day he died four years ago she never let him forget that he was nothing more than a consolation prize, a plastic ring plucked from a Cracker Jack box that Naomi reluctantly accepted when the sparkly-diamond-life she was hoping for never materialized.
Not me. If nothing else, I learned from Naomi’s mistakes. When my sexy, funny, wonderful, loyal, loving college sweetheart Peter Newman asked me to marry him I knew I’d struck gold. Even if Sienna did have some misgivings about his name.
“I know he’s smart, ambitious, and all you can think about is jumping him. But do you realize that if you two get married you’ll be ‘Truman Newman’?” Sienna had teased. “Think you can live with that?”
Two months later I had the answer. Peter and I were walking through Washington Square Park back to our dorms at NYU to cram for senior finals when he bent down on one knee to propose.
“Yes!” I squealed, nearly knocking over my husband-to-be as I tumbled onto the sun-scorched grass to give him a big, long kiss.
I let out a sigh.
“Earth to Tru,” Sienna says, waving a hand in front of my face. “Where did you go?”
“Sorry, I was thinking about how I became Truman Newman.” I smile, fingering the tiny diamond chip ring that Peter had saved up for months to buy and that now—even though we can afford something more extravagant—I’d never replace. Then I nervously turn my attention back to the party and see a million things that still need to be fixed. I grab a napkin off one of the tables and start vigorously rubbing the crevices of an ancient sculpture.
“Hey, lady, get your hand out of Cleopatra’s butt!” a security guard bellows from across the room. Sienna snatches the makeshift cleaning rag out of my hand and brandishes it like a white flag.
“Stop worrying, will you?” she says.
“I can’t, there are too many things that can go wrong. Will people notice that the linen is folded to look like pyramids? Will they like the music, the lighting, the food? Oh lord, you should have heard the fights the benefit committee members had over the food! I had to deal with locavores, who won’t eat anything grown out of their zip code. Then there was the raw foodist who insisted that nothing we serve be heated above one hundred sixty degrees.”
Sienna walks over to the bar and asks for a gin and tonic. “Did you run into any of the calorie reduction people? My producer swears that eating as little as possible will help you get to be a hundred.” Sienna tosses the lime wedge out of her drink and takes a sip. “Frankly, I’m not sure that a life without alcohol is worth living.”
“Well, don’t get me started on the serving pieces. One woman insisted that we couldn’t use paper because it gets dumped in landfills. Another, that we’d waste a ton of energy running the dishwasher if we had glasses. We finally settled on disposable cups made from biodegradable cornstarch and sugarcane plates. I’m just praying that none of the guests is diabetic.”
Sienna laughs. “You know it’s just a party.”
“It’s not, it’s a party to do something about global warming,” I snap defensively. “Aren’t you worried that our country pumps more carbon dioxide into the air than any other country in the world? I know I am! I’ve switched all of our lightbulbs to LEDs. I make Peter and the girls turn off their computers at night. And I’m lobbying for our co-op to do something about clean energy, although I’m meeting strong resistance from the president of the board—he keeps insist- ing that ‘Putting solar panels on our beautiful Beaux Arts building would be like wrapping the Pietà in tinfoil.’ But I’m trying. This is not ‘just a party’!”
“Okay, okay, don’t get so excited. I did a thirty-second satellite interview with George Clooney about glob . . .” Sienna says, and then she pauses. “This isn’t about me having a job and your not, is it?”
“No, of course not. I never had a job worth liking and Molly and Paige are the best thing that ever happened to me. I love being a stay-at-home mom. I know it’s a luxury and I’m grateful for Peter’s generous paycheck. And if that makes me an M & M, I’m proud to wear the badge.”
“An M & M, a woman who’s into Mothering and Maintenance. Growing up, I never could have imagined that I’d know an Eames chair from an IKEA knockoff or an alpha-beta peel from the alphabet. Or that I’d care about myself enough to care. Besides,” I say lightly, “not all of us can be big deal TV anchors.”
“I’m a local TV anchor and there’s enough competition out there already. Do you know how many twentysomethings with Katie Couric haircuts are yapping at my heels, trying to push me out of that anchor chair?” Defiantly, Sienna tosses back her thick auburn mane of shoulder-length waves.
“I think Katie Couric’s hair is dreadful,” I tell her loyally.
“Thanks. And I’m glad that you’re married. Can you imagine me hosting Thanksgiving? Besides, as an old married lady you’re still enthralled by my dating stories.” She pulls out a gold compact to reapply her lip gloss.
“Well, who wouldn’t be? The Russian billionaire. The accidental real estate mogul—although explain that to me again. How do you ‘accidentally’ end up owning eighty buildings and a small Greek island?”
“Poker. A five-card flush.”
“Anyway, my favorite was Alonzo, the assistant nursery school teacher.”
“Mine too. We made wild, passionate love and then he’d read me a bedtime story until I fell asleep. No, marriage isn’t for me,” Sienna says decisively, snapping shut the compact. “But it seems to agree with you. You and Peter, the marriage, it’s per—really good,” she says, remembering not to use the P word. “But I’m between boyfriends at the moment so don’t dare tell me how you two still have the hots for each other, okay?”
Not lately, I think, scratching my head trying to remember the last time my good-looking husband and I made love. I’ve been busy with the benefit and Peter has seemed a little distracted lately. Still, on the plus side, he has been around a lot more. Peter used to barely make it through the door in time to kiss the girls goodnight, but these days he’s home every night before six, sitting right next to us on the couch as we watch Sienna on the news. Good for him. Maybe my alpha-male hubby is finally learning to delegate some of those details that used to keep him chained to his desk 24/7 to the firm’s junior brokers. As for sex, right after I get this benefit out of the way I’ll have to make it my next priority. Maybe I’ll buy some luscious new nighties or pick up some of those erotic massage oils my manicurist is so wild about (as soon as I check whether jasmine and rose are the aphrodisiacs—or the diuretics). I’m sure I can turn up the heat in the bedroom. Besides, I muse, as a big smile crosses my face just picturing them, I love Peter and our fourteen-year-old twins, Paige and Molly. And then, before I have a chance to think about it, the words come tumbling out of me.
“I like my life. I’m happy.”
Talk about tempting fate! Someone says, “What a beautiful vase,” and next thing you know, it breaks. A compliment on your new outfit? Just means you’re going to be spilling coffee all over it. Say your life is going well and . . . “Pooh, pooh,” I cry, quickly adding the Yiddish “kineahora” to ward off the evil eye. “Garlic, we need some garlic,” I say to a passing waiter, “and maybe some raw chicken eggs . . .”
“Oh sweetie, relax, it’s okay, you’ve earned it. You deserve to be happy,” Sienna says firmly. She pauses, and I hear an uncharacteristic catch in her mellifluous TV-newscaster voice. “We all do.”
“No, nothing we need to talk about now,” Sienna recovers. Then she walks over to the coatroom and retrieves a small blue velvet pouch. Opening it, I pull out a beautiful turquoise necklace with a pendant in the shape of a scarab.
“How did you know?”
“That the Egyptians believe the beetle is a good omen? Please, do you think I don’t know the real reason why your first car was a Volkswagen?” she teases.
“For luck,” Sienna says, stepping behind me to fasten the chain around my neck.
“For luck.” I close my eyes and clasp the amulet’s cool inscribed stone in my hand. For the first time all day I feel almost calm. There’s a small commotion in the hallway as a handful of guests arrive. I take a deep breath, tilt my head back, and stride confidently toward the front of the museum. Then as I take my place on the receiving line I hear a light ping. I look down just in time to see the stone scarab fall off the delicate gold chain and hit the ground.
From the Hardcover edition.