B: Is it raining?
A: I think they're spitting at us.
B and I spent the afternoon sitting on a couch in the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Rome, watching the Stars and their hairdressers go up and down the marble staircase. It was just like watching a play.
I'd been flown to Rome for an Event that evening which had pulled a lot of big stars into town. We were celebrity-spotting. B compared us to Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz in the lobby of the Beverly Hills. I'd been saying for years that Rome is the new celebrity center, the new Hollywood.
B was feeling very grand. "This means you've really made it," he said, "when they fly you in and we can sit around all day in a glamorous lobby like this, watching everybody we've ever seen in every magazine and every movie . . ."
At that moment I was more impressed with the couch than I was with the stars on the stairs. The tireder you are, the less impressed you are. With anything. If I'd gotten some sleep on the plane I might have been excited too.
"We've sat in hotel lobbies all over New York and all over the world, and it's always nice," I said. The lobbies are always the best-looking place in the hotel—you wish you could bring out a cot and sleep in them. Compared to the lobby, your room always looks like a closet.
"No," B said, "but there's something about traveling thousands of miles—" "—to sit in a lobby."
"—of traveling thousands of miles to sit in a place like this. If it were just down the block I wouldn't think it was that great, but the fact that we came all this way makes it exciting."
I told B that if it weren't for the plane ordeal I'd like to be in Europe one day a week. But somehow I can't be one of those people who doesn't think about what it means to be up there and flying. Airports and airplanes have my favorite kind of food, my favorite kind of bathroom, my favorite kind of nonservile service, my favorite peppermint Life Savers, my favorite kinds of entertainment, my favorite kind of lack of responsibility for your own direction, my favorite shops, my favorite graphics—my favorite everything. I even love the security checks. But I just can't get over hating to fly.
"Just think of all the exciting things you're missing," B said.
Actually, I jade very quickly. Once is usually enough. Either once only, or every day. If you do something once it's exciting, and if you do it every day it's exciting. But if you do it, say, twice or just almost every day, it's not good any more. Nothing in-between is as good as once or every day.
A tall handsome man walked into the lobby from outside. He was wearing red slacks and a red shirt with a white patent belt and matching espadrilles. He was Liz Taylor's hairdresser.
"He likes red," B noted.
"He looks good in red. He looks different than he did the last time. I guess he's lost weight," I said, trying to pinpoint the improvement. "Let's tell him."
"Here comes Franco," said B. "He's always scratching his balls, do you think he has crabs?"
"No, he's just Italian." Franco Rossellini was our host for the Event that night and had taken care of all the details for travel and accommodations. Franco has a way of being always solicitous and at the same time totally distracted. He asked us if everything was okay with our tickets and our room, while his eyes darted around the lobby looking for signs of Liz. I asked him if he could pull some strings and get us rooms for a few additional days because we had to stay on after the Event to do some business art. We were having trouble getting an extension because there was an Other Event happening two days after the Event, so our rooms were only reserved for us for the following day and after that we were on our own. When Franco realized what "pull a few strings" meant he got dramatic:
"Do you know they called me for a room for Elizabeth Taylor because there is not even a room for her! And it takes her two days to unpack! With the Other Event coming in, everything is a disaster!"
Just then a Milanese journalist wandered by and asked me how I liked Rome.
Well, I really like Rome because it's a kind of museum the way Bloomingdale's is a kind of museum, but I was too tired to talk that way. Besides, he seemed nice, but almost every journalist never wants to know what you really think— they just want the answers that fit the questions that fit the story they want to write, and their idea usually is that you shouldn't let your own personality butt in on the article they're writing about you or else they'll really hate you for sure for giving them more work, because the more answers you give, the more answers they have to twist to fit their story. So it's better just to smile and say you like Rome and let them give their reasons that they have for you to like it. And anyway, I was tired. I was glad to see Franco coming back over. He always breaks up tension.
"I'm back," he announced. "I've just been posing for the paparazzi. I shouldn't do that."
I told Franco that B had fallen in love in Bulgari's with a girl behind a diamond display who he said looked like Dominique Sanda. Franco understands about "love" and knew the symptoms: "So now are you running into the store all of the time buying all of Bulgari? That's expensive. You should fall in love with a waitress; that's not so expensive."
"It's not expensive because I'm not buying anything. I'm just going in and out, in and out," said B.
Franco made himself world-weary long enough to say, "In-and-out in-and-out . . . What else is there to do . . ." Then he rushed off to talk to some director.
B spotted Liz Taylor walking on the other side of the lobby and tried to make me paranoid by suggesting that she was avoiding me. I could see her out of the corner of my eye.
Then Sergio, one of Franco's assistants, came up and asked B if I could be ready a half hour early so I could go with Liz to meet Princess Grace so we could all walk into the Event together. That was the plan. B was jealous that he wasn't going with us, so as soon as Sergio walked away he said, "He says that like it's so important. He's so used to dealing with Liz through her hairdresser that he thinks he has to talk to you through me, even when you're standing right here."
I told B that what we should have bought him in Bulgari's was a big gold comb. "You should have a giant hairdresser's gold comb. The kind of comb they use for teasing. In gold." B and I laughed about our faux pas in going into Bulgari's and asking for something in silver. We were so nervous because they had us sit down, and then there was nothing to look at—we didn't know what to do with our eyes—and we didn't want to say that we wanted the cheapest thing they had, so B had thought quickly and asked for a swizzle stick in silver, and the girl he was in love with said, "I'm sorry, we have nothing in silver here," so love went down the drain.
"Love went down the drain," agreed B. "I didn't like her any more after she said that anyway. And up close she didn't look that much like Dominique Sanda."
Just then B and I both heard a hissing noise from a corner of the lobby, and B told me not to get paranoid, that it was just a waxing machine. He asked me what I'd do if I got hissed at the Event that night. I told him that I'd been hissed before. He asked me when that was and I told him about getting hissed on college tours.
Then a horrible thought occurred to me—what if I was expected to make a speech at the Event. After all, it was a very official Event, and a benefit yet, and usually at benefits they have speeches.
B decided that we should write a speech right now just in case. We decided I would get up and say what a great thrill and honor it was to work with Liz Taylor's hairdressers —"Let's hear it for Ramon and Gianni!" And then I'd ask Liz to introduce B—I'd say, "Liz Taylor has changed my life: now I, too, have my own hairdressers. I've taken my business manager and my photographer and my redactor and my social secretary and made them all hairdressers."
Elsa Martinelli came by to ask us if we were wearing black jackets or white jackets tonight because her husband Willy had forgotten his black one and wondered if a white one would be all right, because he didn't want to be the only one in a white jacket or else people would be mistaking him for a waiter and asking him for drinks. B said that the best he could do would be to wear his white pants because he didn't have a white jacket, and Elsa thought that that would make Willy feel better. B asked Elsa what her tee-shirt had embroidered on it. Her explanation was something like:
"Oh, this is a crazy Neapolitan thing. He doesn't know how to speak English very well, so for him—the designer— this means, 47, that's forty—means 'fuck' in Neapolitan— seven—"
Christian De Sica tapped Elsa on the shoulder and they went into the restaurant. "Ciao." "Ciao."
We were quiet for a few minutes, and I started to think about face images. B asked me what I was thinking about and I told him I was thinking about "portraits."
The waxing machine was on our side of the lobby now. "Poptarts?" B asked. You see, he couldn't hear.
I liked that. "Yes. Poptarts. It's funny because if someone gets a poptart when they're old, then is the artist supposed to make them look 'younger'? It's really hard to know. I've seen poptarts done by famous artists who painted old people looking old. So then, should you have your poptart done when you're very young so that will be the image that's left? But that would be strange, too . . ."
This B's idea of a wonderful date would be to take out the most eccentric, most rich, most old lady he could find, so he was in favor of Age before Beauty. "A person's personality doesn't show in their face until they're old. There's something about the force of a personality that comes through. So a 'poptart should be flattering, in the sense that it's a reflection of a positive part of the person's personality."
Just then Ursula Andress appeared at the top of the stairs. She looked beautiful. She was talking to her hairdresser. I could tell that they were talking about her hair. He was making gestures around it as if he were giving ideas. It was a very glamorous scene.
B and I started to argue over how tall she was. I said she was short and B said she wasn't so short.
B said, "She looks great. She doesn't look short."
I said, "No. She's very short."
B said, "But she doesn't look short."
I said, "She has shoes on."
B said, "She has underarm perspiration. Look! She's smelling under her arms!"
I said, "That's right, but she's smart not to use deodorant because it's poison, and also you never know when you're really nervous. She's smart to want to know when she's nervous."
B said, "She still doesn't look short to me."
I said, "I know she doesn't look it. I didn't used to think she was so short either until I saw pictures of her."
B screamed, "BUT YOU'RE LOOKING AT THE ACTUAL GIRL! DOES SHE LOOK SHORT TO YOU??"
I said, "She's standing next to her hairdresser, and her hairdresser's short too, so you can't tell."
She started down the staircase.
I said, "Look, she's two steps up from him and she's not staring down at him! Come on, B, admit it, she's a peanut!"
B wouldn't admit it. "All right," he said, "she's not tall, but she's not a peanut."
I said, "I bet she's even shorter than I think. I bet she has those big high shoes on. We can't see them because her pants come right down to the rug, but I bet she has four-inch clogs on."
B said, "But her look is so long. She's certainly not as short as some people."
"Yes she is," I said. "She's shorter."
B started to go crazy. "YOU'RE DETERMINED TO BELIEVE SHE'S A PEANUT!"
I said, "I MET HER, B! YOU MET HER TOO! YOU KNOW HOW SHORT SHE IS!"
"SHE WAS SITTING DOWN!"
"No," I said softly, "she got up."
"She wasn't that short." This B was stubborn. He said it in a final way, as if now that was that.
I said in an even more final way, "She's a peanut." I stared at B. He was tired of arguing. I'd won.
Then while his defenses were down I said, "Look, if you were doing your job you would have gone over there and asked her for an interview."
"What should I do, run over and interview her on how it feels to be the shortest woman in the world???"
"Well, she is short ..." I said. "There's no getting away from that."
Ursula came down another step and B started up again, "Look, she just came down a step and you can see her heels and they're not that high. She's got short heels on. She's actually quite tall."
I said, "B . . . Next to that guy she's tall, because he's a bigger peanut than she is. Don't worry, B—Liz Taylor is also very short. All the great stars are short!"
B started laughing. "But Liz is shaped like that blue vase over there, with her hair being the flowers and her hips being the table . . ."
I said, "You know, B, one of these days Liz will pay attention to you or say something nice to you, and you'll end up really liking her."
B said, "I do like her, but she is shaped like that vase, and her hair is like those flowers in it."
"B, she'll come up to me someday and say, 'I hear you have the best hairdresser in the world,' and then she'll look at you and say, 'How would you like to work for me? And take ten per cent of everything I make." "
I yawned. "I feel like two old ladies," I told B.
B said, "Oh this is too much under one roof—Liz, Paulette, Ursula, Elsa, Sylvie, Marina Cognate, Sao Schlum-berger . . ."
"You're naming off the biggest stars in the world, B. And don't forget Mrs. Rochas."
B went on, ". . . Mrs. Rochas, Christina Ford, Betty Catroux, Guido Mannari—all in one room. Christian De Sica . . ."
"Oh," I said, "he's adorable. Is it okay for guys to be adorable?"
"It's okay for anybody to be adorable," B said. My wife was running low and I was tired: time to go up to my room and snooze before getting dressed for the Event.