8 Million Stories: A Christmas Ornament for the Rich
My friend Paul had been beaten and pissed on after leaving a Christmas Party in Brooklyn, but we were still in good spirits.
The holiday cheer had made its way into our minds and, being young, we were still tempted by life’s many gifts.
Unfortunately, they were all wrapped in blinding tinsel—and turned rotten when they were opened.
I lived on the Lower East Side, which was in the orgy of its multi-million dollar facelift. Ground Zero still gaped at its edges and New Yorkers seemed drawn to a neighborhood peopled by ghosts and patriots. Paul went to school in Toronto and studied art history. He was in New York because of an internship at the Robert Miller Gallery. I worked in a “gallery” in Soho, one that only showed artwork of the buildings of New York: Empire State buildings, Chryslers, pigeons and bridges hung on the walls.
I had only been to a couple of openings at Robert Miller, one of the bigger galleries in the Meatpacking District, but the printer who had worked with Warhol, the free wine and the scent of culture lingering heavily on the night air seduced me into an NYC holiday mood.
Our cab crawled by the East River on our way to the Miller Christmas Party. Paul looked pensive while he hummed “Santa Baby” under his breath. When we arrived, the door opened and the giant apartment sprawled before us. To the left was the living room; to the right a drawing room filled with original Picassos, Pollocks and Mapplethorpes. In the center, framed by a giant glass window looking onto Central Park, was the bar.
“Betsy Miller made the sauce for the lamb,” Paul whispered in my ear. I looked to see if he was joking. He wasn’t.
“I’m not hungry,” I said to Paul, while we queued up in the buffet line.
“Just fill up your fucking plate,” he said, smiling tightly.
We made our way to the long, low white couch in the living room. The Christmas tree must be 30-feet tall, I thought, as a withered dandy approached us.
“What do you do?” he croaked, grinning and sliding into the place beside me.
“I’m a writer,” I said.
“He works in publishing,” Paul interjected.
“How fucking interesting!” exclaimed the dandy. He had food stuck in his teeth, and I grinned ruefully.
“What do you do?” I asked.
“I’ve seen it all,” he said. “I’ve worked for this family for over 20 years. I’ve met everybody. Liza. Everybody. Saw the Factory years, the disco years. Drugs, sex, art.”
Later, in the smoking room, a burly woman came up to us. “Paul, do you have a cigarette?” she asked frantically.
“Of course, for you darling,” he said.
The doorman had to push hard against the wind, and the snow came down heavily outside. We ran through the dark to an inset doorway, huddling there in the glow from our cigarettes.
“Did you hear about the artist that died?” the woman asked.
“No, who was he?”
“He was a shitty artist, and now we have to have a fucking retrospective.”
“Are you warm in that thing?” she asked and pointed aggressively toward my fur coat.
I nodded yes.
“God, Paul, you really know how to pick them,” she said, rolling her eyes.
I went to the bathroom to roll a joint, and when I pushed the door open, the old dandy was peeing. He looked back at me over his shoulder and winked.
At the bar, I met a woman who was in big with Michael Alig in the ’90s. She told me about the cocaine bars around Tompkins Square Park. I told her I remembered hookers on every corner in the Lower East Side. I would wave to them on my way to kindergarten.
“You grew up there?” she asked, incredulous. “You know why you’re here, right?”
“I was invited,” I said.
She laughed. “They wouldn’t have let you in the front door unless they wanted some local color,” she explained. “You’re a Christmas ornament.”
Afterwards,Paul and I smoked a joint in the shelter of the doorway with a pretty blonde from South Africa. I wondered if she was an ornament, too. I decided I wouldn’t go to any more parties. I didn’t want to be the penny picked off the streets, polished and placed in drawing rooms. Except Paul was already talking about the party at Soho House. Then there was the gala across from Ground Zero with the black artist who photographed herself naked as Jesus.
“You’re coming with me right?” he asked. “Everyone loved you tonight.”
“They did?” I asked.
“You should come, I go to all of these things,” said the blonde.
“Yeah, I’ll be your official Robert Miller party buddy,” I said and smiled.
“Great.” Paul shook my hand like we’d just made a business deal.
In the cab ride home, Paul sang quietly under his breath.
“Come and trim my Christmas tree with some decorations bought at Tiffany’s. I really do believe in you, let’s see if you believe in me. Hurry down the chimney tonight.”
Royal Young is a writer who was born and fled from the Lower East Side and currently resides in Brooklyn. He can be reached at myspace.com/royalyoung.
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