‘Way up on the Upper East Side’
One of the many things I enjoy about living in New York City is the, well, mix of people. Where I grew up in the Midwest — at least when I grew up there — a brunette was pretty darned exotic.
But here you get to rub elbows (and sometimes much much more) with a wide variety of folks. Some of whom live on a scale that can take some getting used to. Like, one day The Child came home from nursery school with this to say: “Mommy, Helen’s mommy has a couch in her bathroom!” Me: “How nice for Helen’s mommy!”
And I once shared Safety Patrol duty with a very congenial fellow mommy who, it turned out, had the same last name as a whole wing of the Metropolitan Museum. (No, she wasn’t named after it; it was named after her.)
And you may recall (from my story “Three, and You’re Under the Host”) that when The Child was attending that Quite Distinguished Private All-Girls School, we were invited to some pretty swell parties. (All the parents, not just us, were invited to these parties. But still.)
This Mingling-with-the-One-Percent also happened at work. Back then, Ogilvy had a decidedly Country-Club flair. Maybe it was because David was, well, David. (He lived in a castle in France, for starters. If you want, you can read about His Ogilvyness here.)
David liked to surround himself with other “Gentlemen with Brains”. (Yes, that was a phrase he coined.) So there was the Account Guy Who Was a Whitney. And the Creative Guy Who Was a Delano. (Which is a flavor of Roosevelt.)
Yup, the Social Register was amply represented. I remember there was this one assistant account executive who just disappeared one afternoon. His office was empty, his jacket was draped over his chair. But he was — poof! — gone. Turned out he’d gotten a phone call telling him he’d come into his inheritance.
Among these People Who Really Didn’t Have to Work was a producer on the Dove team. As you may recall, I was a copywriter. So I was responsible, with my art director partner, for coming up with the ideas for TV commercials. The producer was in charge of getting them made. At the time, Dove was in the midst of its “Seven-Day Test” campaign, which, if you are as long in the tooth as I, you may remember. In case you don’t, here’s an example:
I never really understood what Lucille (not her real name) was doing working at Ogilvy — or working anywhere, for that matter. She was married to a Money Guy (my term for anyone in “finance”), lived in a palatial apartment on Fifth Avenue, and had staff.
She had a maid, and a driver, and a cook. In fact, she told me once that she had never been in her kitchen.
Now don’t get me wrong. Lucille may have been one of the One Percent, but she was sweet and kind and generous to a fault. We once worked on a Dove commercial in Chicago in the middle of winter, where we were shooting, for some insane reason, outdoors, and it was Chicago-in-the-middle-of-winter cold. So Lucille kindly loaned me “one of her old fur coats”.
Even after she stopped working at Ogilvy (or anywhere else) she would call up out of the blue to, say, offer us house seats to “Hairspray”. Or invite us to some trendy restaurant. Once we were eating at this nouvelle cuisine hotspot, and I ordered the “lobster ravioli”. A huge white plate decorated with swirls of sauce was placed before me. On it was exactly one “lobster ravioli”. Stephen, her husband (not his real name either), upon finishing his meal, asked “Who else wants to go for pizza?”
Lucille (of course) got her clothes in Paris. Or at this boutique on Park Avenue called “Martha”. (Speaking of Park Avenue, the picture at the top of this post shows me the closest I’ll get to an apartment there.)
Once I mentioned to Lucille that I’d seen her “on First Avenue the other day” and she said that it couldn’t have been her because “I never go to First Avenue.” (For those of you who are not New Yorkers, First Avenue, at least on the Upper East Side, is where the hardware stores, locksmiths, and vacuum-cleaner-repair places are.)
But. Back to staff. Besides the maid, the driver, and the cook, Lucille had a nanny. For her dog. She had this standard poodle named Gerard (yes, that was his Real Name; that dog was smart, but I don’t think he can read), after Gerard Depardieu.
Gerard (the dog Gerard, not the French movie actor Gerard) had not only his own Bear (a stuffed Steiff) to play with, but his own Person too. When you said to Gerard “Go get your bear! Go get your bear!” off he’d go, and come back with his bear in his mouth. Not sure how he fetched his nanny.
Anyway. I’m not sure whatever happened to Lucille. Maybe she’s one of my readers. (Hello out there, Lucille! Thanks again for loaning me your Old Fur!) At any rate, I often think of her fondly when I’m walking up First Avenue on my way to the hardware store.
New York City. February 2018