New York Memories: The Ladies Who Lunch, Part Three of Four

I worked with quite a few WASPy matriarchs in my New York jobs. They tended to be divorced from high-flyers (often referred to as “that bastard” and addressed through lawyers), left with expensively half-reared children and devastating mortgage and maintenance bills. They were generous with life advice:

“Diana, don’t cry, twenty-seven isn’t old. You have your thirties to look forward to. Thirties are great. Early thirties are fabulous. You’re still young, you’ve got your head on straight, it all works. By the forties you’ve got a high pressure job, or you’ve got kids and you’re sweating the school fees, or both.”

“Diana, when I married Wick I didn’t know a thing about relationships. I thought it was enough that his family knew my family and we belonged to the same clubs and liked the same sports. I didn’t realize you also had to like each other, to get along.”

“Diana, my mother took up tennis because it was my father’s game and she wanted to get his attention. Once the wedding had taken place, she put away her tennis racket. Now that was a smart woman.”

The relevance of these pieces of advice to my own social situation, which consisted of hanging out in Chinese restaurants with my geeky friends from high school, college, and Trade Media Publishing, was unclear, but I appreciated their concern, and tried to keep in touch as long as I could. And I hope that today all of these women are still going to benefits for aged cabaret singers and volunteering in the soup kitchens at St. James’s and St. John the Divine and enjoying their high powered jobs, now that they no longer have to sweat the school fees.

Shortly before I came to Finland, I arranged to have lunch with one of them. I was freelancing for The Dictionary Makers in the East 50s, and I chose a chain croissanterie near the Lipstick Building as the meeting point. I arrived at La Croissanterie or Au Bon Pain or whatever it was to find my lunch date, N., standing at the entrance to the sidewalk terrace in a silk wrap dress and Jackie O sunglasses, tapping her foot with impatience.

N: So now do we find the maitre d’, or what?
Me: There is no maitre d’.
N: So how does it work?
Me: First we go inside and get our food.
N: Ourselves. We get the food ourselves.
Me: Right, that’s the idea … and we pay for it and then we find our table. Ourselves.

It was like explaining fast food to a character from The Secret History. N. was skeptical about the whole model, but set her jaw and coped admirably, and afterwards allowed that the Le Bon Croissant experience had not been bad at all. Next: Food chain.

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