If you stand directly in front of the Statue of Liberty–at once shorter and kitschier yet at the same time somehow grander than you expect it to be–there’s a tree-dotted sward to the right, facing lower Manhattan, of approximately football-field dimensions but kidney-shaped. In front of the sward there’s a promenade and a railing with a battery of those coin-operated heavy-metal binoculars looking like silver alien heads perched on metal stalks and doing the usual truly mediocre job of magnifying things. Cataractic and tunnel-visioned, those things are always disappointing, and last night, with the brilliant megalithic skyline laid out before you in even greater and crisper grandeur than usual, with planes blinking their bright-lighted way toward JFK and LGA, with private and commercial boats plying the dark, sparkling waters of New York Harbor, you didn’t need any kind of visual aid to be impressed with the view.
And when you turned around, to see the party–The Party; you must give it its due–you were nearly as impressed, in a different way. At least I was, and one of the main ways I, being a meteorologically preoccupied fellow, was impressed was with the party’s climatological riskiness. I ran into Jay Fielden, an editor and a writer at The New Yorker, and he told me he was doing a piece about the party’s “designer,” Robert Isabelle.
“What would have happened if it had rained?” I asked him.
“Catastrophe,” Jay said.
“So she just rolled the dice?”
“She just rolled the dice.”
She is Tina Brown, of course, and she rolled a 7. It was a fabulous (Tina would say fabbelus) night, clear and warm, with a pleasant breeze animating the multi-colored Japanese lanterns depending from the trees. Scantily dressed women, most of them in black, and black-clad men lay about drinking wine on huge striped and solid-color cushions scattered about in groupings of three or four on the grass, or sat at the 30 or so tables beneath the trees. In the middle of each the tables was a huge picnic basket, in which, under cloths folded over in a pastry-looking manner, were napkins, plates, silverware, and plastic containers filled with corn salad and potato salad, and strolling waiters supplemented these dishes with platters of lamb chops and fried chicken. Some tables featured big galvanized tubs filled with ice and bottles of white wine; columns of bottles of red wine stood in front of the tubs. A few of the tubs had 20 or 30 small bottles of Evian nestled in ice. The low, slate-topped wall of the promenade was covered by comfortable cushions, and there were long bars in two or three places. A stage and temporary dance floor had been constructed behind the statue. Generally, whatever “concept” Mr. Isabelle had for this party seemed to be working.
The 1,500 partygoers arrived at South Ferry from about 7:30 p.m. on. The statue was closed to the general public, and only party guests were allowed on the two Statue of Liberty ferries that went to the island and came back continuously all night. My wife and I boarded the ferry at about 8:30. It would be foolish to drop names; they were as plentiful as the lights burning in the World Trade Center, which presided over the proceedings like titanic parents. When we got off the boat, we were ushered along the pier by, well, ushers. A lot of them had headsets on. Some motioned us on our way with chartreuse-chimneyed flashlights. Made me feel like a 747. Tina Brown stood stunningly on the pier illuminated by camera lights in the gathering dusk in a white number and greeted some arrivees individually, causing a traffic jam and throwing the headset/flashlight crew into frenzied pleading: “This way, please. If you’ll just step this way.” Oh, well, there’s no way of avoiding the names: In my small clot of people dislodged swardward from the pier were Margaret Carlson, ICM agent Esther Newberg and her escort, newsman/artist John Johnson; illustrator/author/director Lane Smith; Buck Henry; Tony Schwartz; ???; ???; ???.
Lane Smith, on rounding the bend in front of the statue and seeing the multi-colored lanterns, said, “That works for me. I mean, they could have gone with the fashionably neutral colors–white, gray, maybe tan. But this looks good.”
And it really did. People were chuckling about the Rome of the Decadence effect of the big lawn bolster recliners. Numbers began wafting about on the breezes: “I’d say at least five; it has got to be five.” “750, min.” “Over a mil–no question. Think of the one-night payroll alone, and renting the Statue of Liberty.” “One point two. I heard that as known fact.” These zephyr-borne estimates went way up after the Grucci fireworks barge floated between Liberty Island and the skyline with an electric sign on it that said Talk (did I forget to say that this was Tina Brown’s party for her new magazine, Talk?) and hurled into the black sky a literally earth-shaking barrage of pyrotechnics. The first few were dedicated rockets. “This one’s for Harvey and Bob Weinstein,” George Plimpton said. He knew the names of each of these single shot items: “A silver-flanged fleur-de-lis,” he said, or something like that. “A 12-inch golden-dragon magnolia.” The one dedicated to what people throughout the night kept noisomely referring to as “Lady Liberty” (a moniker on the same unacceptability level as “The Big Apple”) came way down on the list. She’d been privatized-for-a-night, I guess. Plimpton got lost in his list at one point, but despite referring to one of the contributors to the display’s soundtrack as “Cecille Dion,” he brought to the event his patrician sonorities and his fabled familiarity with fireworks. The finale left no one in the audience in any doubt as to the existence of his or her sternum and ribcage.
This fireworks’$2 20 minutes was the only 20 minutes during which 25 to 35 percent of the audience was not talking to or hearing from someone who wasn’t with them. I mean, there was the headset crowd, coordinating whatever it was they had to coordinate, the security crowd, with their hearing-aid like devices, and the cell-phone set, talking to–whom? The mainland, one guessed.
In Patton, George C. Scott as General Patton looks over an imminent battle scene and says something like “God help me–I do love it so!” Well, PFC Menaker is here to tell you, “God help me, I do love it so.” Jane Friedman, Katrina van den Heuvel (her dress had literally no back; she looked fabbelus!), Salman (you must say “Salman,” I have heard, and how many writers have achieved first-name status in our time? Maybe Norman, but not Thomas or Philip or William or John, as far as I can tell), Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Todd Solondz, Paul Newman, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgewick, etc. I had a pen and a piece of paper ready to get Latrell for my son (“Better be careful not to get him angry, Dad”), but if he was there, I didn’t see his first-name-sufficing self. These ingredients swirled around each other in a dance of honest enjoyment and/or self-conscious shoulder-rubbing for an hour or so before the toasts from the stage.
Then came the toasts. Queen Latifah (featured in Talk’s first issue) presided, asking that we “give it up for,” among others, “Lady Liberty.” She was accompanied by a Grucci-worthy rap-bass on World Trade Center-tall woofers, and she called to the stage Ron Galotti, who made some OK but forgettable remarks, and the Teenster herself, who said, among other things, “Queen Latifah is the only queen I’ll ever have to curtsy to. I mean, the Statue of Liberty, America–this is what it’s all about.” Tina says “America” oddly–it’s Ameriker or Amerrikeh, or something like that. She also said, at nearly a shriek, that the Statue of Liberty was “awesome.” She also thanked Donna Karan for the dress, which she said she had to pour herself into. Her well-crafted remarks also seemed ultimately dwarfed by the setting and by the event she herself had caused to happen. One had to hand it to her–it was really fun. It was undeniably Something. Tina’s book is called Life’s a Party. For her, I suspect, The Party’s a life.
I left at about 11:30, a little blotto. On the dock, Tina and her husband, Harry Evans, who was the person who hired me as an editor at Random House and who once demolished me in pingpong in between swimming laps at his health club–and I’m a pretty good ping pong player–were spotted, saying hello or goodbye to this luminary or that one. I got five minutes face time with my ex-boss, Tina Brown. “If I had a hat, it would be off to you,” I said.
“Have you seen it yet?” she asked, I like to think a little plaintively.
“No, not yet.”
“Putting it to press had its nightmare moments,” she said.
“Yes, people were telling me things about nervous breakdowns and hospitalizations,” I said. “But congratulations on the Hillary breakthrough.”
“Lucinda Franks worked very, very hard to get that,” she said.
“Well, it’s a real coup.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder. “You’ll have to swim over there, young man,” my other ex-boss, Harry Evans, said, pointing toward the far shore. “Anyone under 50 has to swim. Could you swim that on a bet, do you suppose?”
“Never,” I said. “You’re the swimmer. I’m about as good a swimmer as I am a ping pong player. By the way, congratulations.”
“On what? I haven’t done anything.”
“Um, on your book?” I said.
“Oh, that. Well, yes, thanks.”
He hurried off to press a little more flesh. Speaking of which, “It doesn’t look to me like you had to pour yourself into that dress,” I said to Tina, the cat just having left.
She gave her eyes a bat or two. “Thank you, Dahn,” she said. She can be a terrible flirt, the “good Tina.” (The “bad Tina” doesn’t really belong in this festive setting.)
Even knowing that most of this whole function was all for buzz and hype and advertising and so on, I said, “This was so generous of you. Thank you for inviting me.”
“Thanks for coming, Dahn. It is fabbelus, isn’t it?”
It was back onto the ferry, heading toward Manhattan into a still-warm breeze. My wife and I stood on the foredeck or whatever you call it. “This is so romantic,” she said. We smooched.