Earlier this month I took a trip to New York.
“Unnecessary,” my father said, “What business do you have in New York?”
“Absolutely necessary,” I replied, “Grace will be there, and besides, I’ll have two free places to stay.”
The first place was with J, the son of a family friend who I had imagined to be some sort of shipping magnate. J’s mother is an artist, a generous woman with flowing hair and luscious lips. She travels all over the world in expensive linen outfits, renting beautiful houses for months at a time. Sometimes she takes art classes from local masters to improve her technique. One Christmas she presented my parents with a painting of an enormous sunflower.
“It’s in the impressionist style,” she said with an artist’s authoritative air.
Standing behind my parents, I heard some of my relatives snicker.
My father, not known for tact, laughed heartily and said, “Whatever the style, the frame will probably cost more than the painting will ever be worth.”
J’s mom, luckily, is extremely thick skinned and slapped my father playfully on the arm.
“Thank you anyway,” my father said, “We will hang it right here, above the fireplace.”
Her generosity however, extended far beyond her willingness to give away her art. She was also quite generous with her timeshare. She took me and my parents to Paris in the spring of 2006. Her husband, the shipping magnate, came along as well, and contributed to what was a most memorable trip because there were two middle-aged, moderately wealthy men with nothing better to do but fight to pay for every meal. I sat quietly to the side and ordered escargot and steak frites.
Last summer, J’s mom (I’ll call her L), took me, my brother and mother to Venice. J couldn’t go because he had just started working for his father, who also couldn’t make it.
L petitioned heavily for her husband to let J take a vacation, but the shipping magnate was adamant, “I can’t just let him go on vacations with you whenever you want. He’s my son, but he’s an employee now. I have to treat him like one.”
Tough love, I thought, when L told me the story. Sitting in St. Mark’s square with the sun on my back, I popped another Baci into my mouth.
A year later, I ran into J at my cousin’s wedding and asked why he went to work for his father.
“Well, it’s hard to go out there and start something on your own.”
No duh, J.
He smiled, “So might as well do some shipping.”
He chose the New York office because it was in New York. His parents still lived in Southern California along with his older brother W, who also worked for their father. I asked W why he didn’t also move to New York to live and work with J.
“J seems to be having a lot of fun,” I said.
“He is,” W said, “But honestly, I’m old enough to know now. I need supervision.”
W is 27.
As J and I spoke, his mother came up to us.
“Betty! J has a great apartment in New York. You can stay there if you ever go to New York.”
My eyes grew wide and calculating.
“How big is it?”
“Five bedrooms,” J said.
That was all I needed to hear. It sounded like a mansion by NYC standards, and I was sure, as J’s father was a shipping magnate and as his mother traveled in high style and as J, in his designer tie, watch and everything else, the apartment could be nothing but spacious, clean and luxurious.
Just because you think someone’s father is a shipping magnate doesn’t mean they actually are. In March I made plans to visit New York and foolishly invited myself and Grace too, to crash at J’s mansion. Five bedrooms, I thought, that ought to mean he’s got an empty one for guests.
Where do I get these sort of ideas? I blame television and girls named Blair and Serena.
J, as it turns out, was being sorely overworked by his father and had, since the last time we talked, rented out the last bedroom to a girl whose boyfriend had also come as part of the package. The apartment was in a nice building on 14th St, which on paper sounds like a nice address but on foot is actually a helluva walk from the nearest subway station. Five bedrooms too, sounds great, especially when you’re talking about New York, but if you can build walls, anyone can turn a large studio into five small bedrooms. Six people used the one bathroom that wasn’t part of the master bedroom, which was not occupied by J but by another female roommate. It is shocking, the smell of a bathroom that is used daily by six people. The gist of my story is that there were five bedrooms, two bathrooms, too many people and not enough furniture. From what I remember, J’s “mansion” was furnished with two enormous futons, a dining room table, an ironing board, and a giant flat screen tv that blasted first the Laker’s game, then the latest video game J’s roommate had been dying to play.
“I’ll only play for thirty more minutes,” he said at 1 am.
“It’s fine,” I said, my eyes bleary from fatigue, “I’m not even sleepy.”
As he shot at cowboys and slutty cowgirls, I used the only perk J’s apartment (apart from being free) had to offer and signed onto Expedia.com and booked a hotel room for the next three nights.
It was expensive, so before clicking, “Confirm,” I called my dad to let him know.
“Absolutely unnecessary,” he said, shaking his head into the receiver.
“I know,” I said, but thought, “Waaaay necessary.”