On New Year’s Day I went to a vodka tasting party in Chelsea. Hosted by a high level executive in the insurance industry and a literary agent (mine), there were academics, artists, bankers, lawyers, editors--- gay, straight, married and otherwise. A real NYC mix of highbrow, middlebrow and even a couple of village idiots. I started off the evening with a vodka tonic and made my way over to the sushi station. While munching on raw tuna and yellow tail, I struck up a conversation with a man who is an English Professor at a well known university and also a member of the MLA (Modern Language Association).
Let’s call him Carlos. I asked Carlos about the troublesome hanging indent still required for all good bibliographies. I said--- is it true it’s about to become obsolete? Heading down the same lonely road as whom and thou and shall? In a lofty tone, he replied that he was on committees that didn’t deal with such matters. But surely I persisted this is important? He conceded that yes MLA style books are still their bread and butter, but clearly couldn’t be bothered with the fate of the hanging indent. Fair enough. Then I asked him what the MLA thought about texting--- is it changing the shape of language? Is it good or bad? More loftiness, more condescension. WTF?
I moved on. Sat next to a woman who could’ve been me, but with money. Pretty, blond, “of a certain age.” Boiled wool pants, cashmere sweater and scarf, gold jewelry, rust suede boots. Oh, a banker at JP Morgan. She lamented about how her and her colleagues were afraid to say the “B” word out in public. About how the whole industry was unfairly targeted. That it was a myth that the industry is rife with criminals. I asked if her bank received a bailout. She said, Yes, but along with other solvent banks such as Wells Fargo, they took it even though they didn’t need it. Why did you take it, I asked. Because it would’ve looked bad if we didn’t, she replied, we’ve already given the money back. When she began to complain about how friends of hers lost so much money, couldn’t send their kids to ivy league colleges, etc. etc. I bailed. That was something I just couldn’t listen to.
Besides, the main event was beginning. The vodka tasting! Waiters passed around trays containing shots of mystery vodka. We were to grade it according to clarity, bouquet, taste, and finish. Determined to remain sober and avoid a horrendous hangover, I took tiny sips in my assessment of all four vodkas. We all knew beforehand that one was made with soy, one was made with grain, and one was made with grapes. They hailed from Florida, Poland, Vienna and France. Not surprisingly, my favorite was from Poland (mother’s milk), but the over-all favorite was from France, P. Diddy’s vodka of choice, Ciroc Ultra Premium.
When the tasting was over, I switched over to a lovely pinot grigio. As I fixed my hair and my lipstick in a bathroom adorned with contrasting marble tile, a stainless steel shower and a towel warmer, I thought, I will never live like this. I will never buy a one bedroom apartment in Chelsea, buy the studio next door, knock down the walls, redo the floors and hang track lighting. Many people were interested in my career as a feminist writer, as someone who’s been produced on Broadway, Off Broadway, NPR, as a woman who writes erotica--- and at this gathering in Chelsea, on the first day of a new decade, the dividing line wasn’t class or money, but art versus commerce.
Clearly there were two camps. We admired each other. We each secretly envied each other. And I’m sure we were all glad to be going home to our own homes, and our own lives. I thought about the banker from JP Morgan who said, its entirely possible that one or two “bad” people making bad choices can bring down an entire economy and still wondered if this really could be true.
Creator and co-author of the award winning The Erotica Project. Author of erotic short stories published on Salon.com. Producer/author for NPR. MA from NYU. Published by Cleis Press, Seal Press, Heinemann Press, New York Press. Reviewed in NYTimes, Village Voice, Art in America, London Sunday Times.