Friday, May 19, 2006

Low Society

One of my guiltiest pleasures is observing what is shamefully referred to as "high society." From the earliest age, I've devoured the society pages and followed the boldfaced names. Perhaps it was the influence of my grandmother, who was a diva of unparalleled proportions. Or perhaps it was simply the fact that I've always been imbued with an affinity for life's finer pleasures. Or perhaps it's just that I like "pretty things" in the words of Rufus Wainwright. I take society at face-value: Sure, it's shallow, pretentious, ridiculous and exclusionary. But, again, paying homage to Wainwright, "Oh, what a world." It's just great fun sometimes.

Now, I'm not reinventing the wheel here, but it bears being said that society has not always been so friendly to Jews. Of course, as American Jews moved out of the lower strata of society and into the upper echelons in terms of sheer wealth, society, surprise, surprise, embraced members of the tribe a little more. But it was always a wink, wink, nod, nod kind of thing. In New York society, Jews have earned and hold their rightful place, sure. Many of New York's most prominent society fixtures are members of the tribe (MOTs). However, journey down to Palm Beach, and you'll notice fewer Golds, Bergs and Steins on the guestlists. So be it. The Jews who are members of Palm Beach society, tend to fall into the nouveau category, and how vulgar is that? There are a few Jewish old money--but not true "old" money, Jewish old money, which still means recent immigration--types that are the creme de la creme of international society such as the Lauders. But these families are few and far between.

OK, so my point with all this is that I've been observing this world for some time now, from Florida to California--well, Hollywood really throws society a curve ball, but that's beside the point--to New York, the center of all things. And I attended my share of society functions in New York, which, are in and of themselves, perhaps the most comical, fascinating and bizarre petri dishes of human interaction and behavior in the world. Because in New York society, if you're not a DuPont, Phipps, Taft, Guest or Getty, you're simply nobody, dah-ling. Sad, but true. So you just laugh at it all. In true NY-Palm Beach society, either your ancestors came over on the Mayflower or you're nouveau riche, period. And then it's like, so the fuck what? Your family could give as much money, or probably more, because as we all know society type WASPS are often very stingy wrt charities, to charity than a social register type, but if you're last name isn't one of the old ones, you're nobody. That's just the way it works, and frankly, it's just absurd.

Because, in the end, who the hell cares what your last name is and where your ancestors came from? Are you a generous person? Do you pay it forward? Do you share the wealth? Do you try to leave a positive legacy on this earth? Do you contribute something worthwhile to "society?" If yes, then, as far as I'm concerned, you're right up there with the Phippses, DuPonts, etc. The Jews, see, we do it better. We don't care who the hell your great-great-great grandaddy was. We actually don't care whether you went to Andover or Choate or Harvard or Yale. We don't care if your diamonds came from Graff. (We do care if your diamonds are real, but, preferably, they should come from 47th Street.) What we do care about is whether you are a generous giver. We care about what charities you donate to and how much money you give back in proportion to your wealth. Whether you're new money or old money, if you're writing the checks to the charities, come on in.

This is a rather longwinded way of me saying that I went to my first "society" event in Miami last night, and what a breath of fresh air it was compared to my experiences at New York society events. The people were genuinely friendly, the music was phat, the mood was casual, people were wearing everything from Hermes to American Apparel, and you know what? A fabulous time was had by all. I was genuinely shocked at how open, friendly and warm everyone was. How welcoming and interested and receptive people were.
"Would you like to join our committee?"
"What do you mean? You don't need a DNA sample and a genealogy tree? Well, then, why, yes, I would be delighted to be more involved in the arts."

Oh, and can I just describe the setting for you? OK. There is this island here called Fisher.
According to it's web site, "Originally built in the 1920's by William and Rosamund Vanderbilt as their splendid winter estate, Fisher Island has enjoyed a long, storied history of entertaining the luminaries of its time." Blah, blah, blah. The long and the short of it is that this is where Oprah and the Olsen twins have pads. You must take a boat to and fro, there is a heliport, the biggest yachts docked outside of Monte Carlo, and more security than the Pentagon. From the time you drive onto the car ferry to your approach at the person's front door, you are escorted by security guards. This apartment was utterly fab, owned by a single guy around my age, with a terrace that everyone I chatted with characterized by excaliming, "this is bigger than my whole apartment." The terrace--I have a thing for terraces--was at least 1,000 sq ft, with gorgeous views of the ocean and the golf course.

But the best part was the people, who were all, every last one of them, completely without attitude and pretense. They just cared about the arts, having fun and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. Really, who could ask for anything else? But this island, although extraordinarily pristine, would have its drawbacks in terms of living. Like, for instance, can you imagine getting shitfaced in South Beach and then having to sit on a slow-moving, vertigo-inducing boat flanked by serious security guards in order to stumble into your home? Or how about this, as one of the guys I was with observed, regarding our host:

"What the hell does he do if he hooks up with a girl? Calls her a taxi and sends her off on a two hour long walk of shame back to the mainland? Or makes her walk to the ferry? That would have to be the worst walk of shame ever...can you imagine him saying, 'Hey, baby, want to take the ferry back to my place? You'll get home in like two days.' Do they even have cabs on this island?"

Probably not, but I'm guessing that one of the golf-cart-driving security guards would gladly escort you back to the ferry if you asked them nicely. En Espanol.