Give the Millionaire a Drink

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They come from all over to the town of East Hampton, this celebrated place at the end of the island. Private jets shoot off hourly from Dallas and L.A., the chilled Porsches and Saabs arrive from Montclair and Rye, matron busloads depart the Park Avenue swelter in a huff of opera and facials, and they come packed five to a Camaro from Woodside and Asbury Park. They crowd the same streets gridded by Dutch burghers of centuries past, fill the landscape like Baptists in a church, and with their tanned arms thrown up and their eyes upon their lord they sing of the coin of the realm, of padded pockets, of the alchemical wish: I can buy this. I can pull things near to me, I levitate as you descend, I will pile the stuff of cash so high as to keep me forever out of my grave….

Nobody could guess why the internationally known supermodel decided to piss in the bar sink at the Apex Grill. Two a.m., the hour most socially permissible for decadent stunts, barroom crowded with angular bodies and faces gone shiny with cosmopolitans and blue martinis, called for again and again with the same stubby wave. The bartender, blurred bulk in white shirt and French apron, watched idly as the tall woman with the charred gold mop of hair crawled up on top of the bar, nailed hand rubbing the makeup from her face, her smiling mouth the long slot of a cigarette machine. As she stepped to the chrome rails and rucked up her dress, silk scraping silk, there were shrieks and the sound of a man slapping himself to vulgar effect, and the bartender remembered an afternoon decades past, lying in bed with his first girlfriend, she sashaying above him in his boxer shorts, giggling, this as piss of drink sprays from the center of that trained and shaped and photographed body, and the bar sink fills like a cistern.

After, a distinguished anesthesiologist, lean, leathery, hair varnished like a helmet, holds up a credit card. “Buy the lovely lady whatever she wants to drink.” Cheers, applause, the bartender straightens up and, moving so slowly through time, reaches for the cassis and champagne.

His date, a twenty year old with an unblemished accusing Andover face: “What is your fucking problem.”

“You need to be more celebratory.” His gaze locked to the swaying flushed model, all the swelled faces in the long mirror, cell phone before him on the bar like a gray fish. “I already told you what you’re here for.”

“There is nothing I wouldn’t do to spite my father.”

Slow late afternoon: stray cats prowl the village dumpsters. All the good people—those drowning in that hearty moral sea of accumulated wealth—are stretched out at the gleaming beach. A famous comic actor known for his films of family entertainment (homespun wisdom interspersed with hilarious belches and pratfalls), and for his witty endorsements of a fine tortilla chip, walks up and down the main street carrying a large bottle of vodka. His fishing vest and floppy hat add a near-tint of gentility. The actor’s eyes resemble cathode ray tubes. When his cell phone rings he shifts the bottle and flips it open, and keeps on walking. He speaks with the air that is trapped for years at the bottom of a western mine.

Three teenage girls stand before the window of a crowded shop. Stylish clothes for women, all and entirely in the color of white. Frocks and gowns and underwear, all the same hue of elegance and emptiness, the blankness of a frame, slices of nothing. Beside those white garments, the girls throb in their hiphuggers and tight striped shirts, slurping on pacifiers. Sixteen and already their faces engraved with a Russian century of bored malaise. “There is nothing I wouldn’t do to spite my father,” one says.

“If only I wasn’t here,” says another.

Tea is served on the veranda of the American Hotel to a rowdy party of options traders. Oh, they’ve done all the good drugs, been tapped for entrance at many velvet ropes, they’ve fucked all the slim blonde women (and then watched, snifters in hand, as all the women melted together in the foamy hot tub on the moonlit deck, every last gawky white boy fantasy fulfilled categorically). But now the intrusion of china cups and pale sandwiches flusters their paid-for vacation hoohrah. Their practiced repose comes apart, up through the mucus of the body’s past rise the fumbling second-string ballplayers and zitty homeroom monitors. “This is bogus,” Troy says.

“Hey. Waitress. Can’t you bring us some port, or something?” calls out Ken, twisting for assurance his gold-flashing diver’s watch.

“The bar will not be open until six, sir,” she replies.

“Bitch,” says Trevor, knocking a teacup off the rail.

At the Telephone Mama, the choice nightspot of this season, the one the Jersey tourists and Astoria orthodontists are simply better off not even knowing about, the line snakes out into the parking lot: bare thighs of celebrant applicants brushed, bruised, by the slow flow of fancy rolling metal. Who are these people? Shaky background zombies from Night of the Flesh-Eating Corporate Raiders, the never-made Corman salute to the rapacious 1980s? The men fluff their chest hair through the slits of silk shirts, if they have it; the smooth-skinned blondies, those delicate boys with pursed mouths disparaging, they are either blood-leached and serious old money, or else homosexual. Reaching the door, three black kids from Valley Stream are turned away: “We have a dress code,” says the enormous doorman. Through the door thumps a vintage Funkadelic side; inside the young women twitch like wraiths on the dance floor, white shawls slipping from their shoulders and breasts. Cursing, the blacks drive off into the night.

In the narrow aisles of the town supermarket: a wealthy man in his fifties argues with his girlfriend, half his age. She is wearing a thong bikini, and her tanned skin is like fine fudge or mink: a thing sheiks might buy by the yard. When he sweeps his arm, his IWC chronometer and gold bracelet tick, clanking: his voice is low, savaging. She flips her ashy hair precisely, cloyingly. “I won’t go,” she says. “Not unless André goes.” At the cash register a townie—belly, navel, nipples distended, jaw shame-slacked, oily hair—hands over a sheaf of food stamps. The proper patrons line up elsewhere, piling their soda crackers and Pellegrino up on the other conveyor, as if something were catching.

That well-known actor loiters in the Rexall, chatting discretely with the pharmacist. He leaves, buying quantities of cough drops and breath mints. In five years, perforated liver shipping poison to his brain, he’ll have taken to passing out candy from his pockets to alarmed children on the streets.

This particular Prada bag was made in Malaysia, in a factory thrown up in an enormous corrugated shed, hand-stitched by women whose arms bear curing burns and knife scars, women with hair coarse as rope and stalled faces, and some weeks later the model purchased it at the East Hampton Saddlery for $570.

An internationally famous woman, even locally a celebrity of some substance, watches the washed-up wetbrain cross the street from within the armored capsule of her Range Rover. She feels towards him a chundering mix of contempt and fear: he’s a has-been, for sure, reduced to kiddy pablum and shilling for snacks, but once he was actually a Hollywood player, the realest kind. She’s on top now, the ultimate hostess, a lasery visionary of taste and purchases and decor, with magazines and recipe clubs and catalogs, a carpet-bombing of commerce spread across the hick heartland; but, you know, she doesn’t really do anything which any Miss Baltimore Homemaker of 1961 could not improve upon. Behind the flat flawless heatproof glass of the vehicle, her smile is pulled into place by hydraulics, exposed teeth carved from a single block of titanium. But beyond it she’s shaking as though from a palsy. Recently, one of the dowagers she courted had whispered to her the cruel, glittering news—“for your own good, dear,” the withered bitch had said—that her daughter, that hard-cheeked rider of deceit and ponies, was sleeping with the contractor on her Sag Harbor cottage, with whom, truthfully (and known to none other), she had last slept not two weeks previous. Unlikely, but it could get around. Ten thousand dollars had gone towards quieting the tale of baby ducks (briefly needed for a photo shoot) murdered beneath the wheels of her vehicle. This perfect woman, no one guesses at her days of shudder and terror, what she endures to prop up this exemplary life of buying and placing. Cross me and die, this famous hostess thinks, waiting for the light to change.

July glides into August, the frictionless summer everlasting. Everybody is from England or into junk bonds or forcing themselves to vomit or working on a novel or bisexual temporarily. More telephones are stolen out of Range Rovers. Most of the dogs receive grooming. Some of the townies get laid.

It is still 2 a.m. at the Apex Grill. The supermodel lurches in, shaky, bad news. Her miniskirt offers up her sintered ass. Nobody is surprised by this, no one notices. Bound to her shoulders is the soft black leather Prada knapsack which every woman here was required on peril of her soul to purchase for this summer. The Prada bags, shapeless, hang from the backs of the women like elegant hide pupae. But the model has replaced the Prada bag’s signature gold-plated zipper ornament with a Tiffany keychain, a miniature infant’s bottle in platinum. This particular Prada bag was made in Malaysia, in a factory thrown up in an enormous corrugated shed, hand-stitched by women whose arms bear curing burns and knife scars, women with hair coarse as rope and stalled faces, and some weeks later the model purchased it at the East Hampton Saddlery for $570 because her agent and Country magazine had touted it as the summer’s prime accessory, and of course, they were right.

“I would like a … cosmopolitan,” she whispers to the bartender. Her mind has been expertly muted to a soft blue Xanax blur. Beneath it, though, is something real: a throbbing kodachrome snapshot of the night, five years before, she sucked a photographer, somewhere in the Montauk dunes. Two months later she had a shoot in Interview, so it was undoubtedly worth it, she knows, but still…. The memory’s buzz will outlast her looks and career. The bartender sets a cocktail glass before her and spills out her drink. Her fingers flutter like moths on the hard stem of the glass.

The bartender slips further down his bar, wiping spills with a white dinner napkin. He pauses before a man and two women sagged with drink and exhaustion, but the man waves him away. “We still have our ménage to look forward to,” says the black woman with grayed skin and drooping gold jewelery.

“Yes,” the man agrees. “If only for its own sake.”

“Oh, you think that’s the important thing,” says the other woman. She looks close to forty, as do they all.

“What I think,” he says, “is it is something we are going to do. Any other definition is just somebody being intentionally morbid and obtuse, Nancy.

“Pay up,” says the first woman.

“Have another drink,” says the man, words leaking out through his puffy face. “Let the impatience build a little.”

“Is your head up your ass or what,” the bartender says, quietly, to the barback, a pocked, stumbling local boy, who has let the ice tub deplete to meltings. “Fill that up and then go home. Get out of my sight.”

He’s not really a good person, this bartender.

But this is his life, East Hampton to Aspen and back, selling the best legal drug in America to the rich folk, enabling their little scenes and gaudy reckless purchasing, all that passes for history these days. His secret knowledge tends to weigh him down: that the dollar’s what it’s all about, and this is just a dance of fancy smoke and notions.

Out in the parking lot, watched only by the stars and valet, that sly pretty Andover girl wanders in slow, dazed circles. The anesthesiologist is long gone, back to Scarsdale. Tonight there was a late supper with a stocky, rapacious bond trader, a manic transplant from Kansas for whom all the dollars made and spent were their own nonstop coitus. They went to Apex, where his waved credit card produced champagne. She listened to his mouth, saying things like, “Damn shit, I sure do love this Dom.” He followed her into the toilet. “Let’s ignite ourselves,” holding out the vial of cocaine. Then went right up her skirt, $30 panties split down the middle, her forearms bruised where he planted her against the hot air blower. The entrance of three dazed Chanel matrons gave her a chance to run. “What?” he said behind her. “Bitch,” as she slipped coins into the phone. She cries, wondering only what, specifically, she’d expected—the bastard dropped two hundreds on dinner, to say nothing of the drugs and bar tabs, the cost of it all, she knows at what sum the numbers add up—cries nonetheless, and waits for her taxi to come.

Mike Newirth has received a Henfield-Transatlantic Review Award and a Pushcart Prize. He teaches composition and creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

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