Thursday, March 23, 2006

Oysters and Dinosaur Eggs

“I hate the way people talk in Santa Barbara,” said the woman, a slender forty-something in a black pantsuit who had just moved to California from Greenwich, Connecticut. She went on, "They say ‘totally’ too much. And they say ‘stokin’.’ What is that? They’re always talking about ‘stokin’’ and being stoked.”

Personally I like surfer speak. I think it should be used more, not less, and not just in reference to surfing. (For example, “Remembrance of Things Past is a gnarly book”). But just as I was about to tell the woman this, she turned away to find someone richer and more important to talk to.

It was Friday night and my friend Jonathon Keats had invited me to a cocktail party in a mansion in Presidio Heights. Original art covered the walls: a painting of a lobster, a portrait of a girl in a nightgown, listening through a glass pressed against the wall. A doddery butler was serving absinthe at a cocktail station set up next to a grand piano, and a vicar kept drifting from room to room, as if he’d wandered out of a nineteenth-century novel and couldn’t find his way back. Middle-aged art collectors admired the paintings while slurping plates of oysters.

Jonathon and I went into the dining-room in search of snacks. Gaunt women with artfully tinted hair were gazing lasciviously at a silver tureen of brisket. I noticed a box on the sideboard with a cannonball-shaped rock inside it. It looked out of place among the sculptures and figurines.
“What’s that?” I asked Jonathon. He is a conceptual artist whom I admire for many reasons, one of which is that he is always elegantly attired in a three-piece suit. Plus, he makes a mean martini, collects strange things like opium pipes and is that rare thing, a perfect gentleman.
“That,” said Jonathon, “is a dinosaur egg.” Then a friend of his explained that there is a subculture of rich people who collect dinosaur eggs and bones.
I stared at the egg, wondering what was inside it. Then I thought about being rich. Does wealth make people eccentric or do we all have a core of eccentricity that wealth simply allows us to express? If I was stinking rich, would I order custom-tinted M&Ms to match my decorating scheme and hire a personal stylist for my poodle? Or maybe I would start a utopia with my friends on a Caribbean island. Feeling annoyed that I could barely afford to throw a cocktail party, I touched the cold egg and said snippily:
“This is a priceless relic of our planet’s history, not an objet d’art. Shouldn’t it be sitting in a museum for everyone to enjoy?”
“Actually, dinosaur eggs are surprisingly cheap these days,” said Jonathon’s friend.

Twenty minutes later Jordan came to pick me up. We had another party to get to, but I told him to come in so he could say hello to Jonathon and have a few oysters (Jordan loves oysters even more than I love vodka, and there were dozens left). Jordan strode across the room towards me. He was wearing jeans and a leather jacket, and hadn’t shaved that day. Then the hostess tripped after him, her body rigid with agitation.
“EXCUSE ME” she said, grabbing his shoulder. Everyone stopped talking for a second to look at Jordan. Apparently there are still places in San Francisco where jeans are considered inappropriate. They thought he was an intruder.

Before anyone could press the panic button, I introduced Jordan, apologizing for assuming it would be OK for him to stop by. The hostess apologized too, saying “Well, you can’t be too careful. I’ve heard there are a lot of drug deals going on in the neighborhood.” This only made things worse. I was angry. Of course, it’s understandable that she was a little suspicious: she didn’t recognize Jordan, and he wasn’t dressed for a party and perhaps I should have found her and asked her permission for him to invite him. But even so, she should outwardly have given him the benefit of the doubt. Instead of shouting “Excuse me!” in ringing tones, she should have simply introduced herself. (Even “Can I help you?” would have been better.)

But owning so many beautiful things had made her paranoid. She and her husband could admire the gorgeous paintings of girls and lobsters every day, but they could no longer allow unexpected guests to show up at their parties. What if he’d been black? Someone would probably have brained him with the surprisingly cheap dinosaur egg.

Jordan ate an oyster or two, but had lost his appetite. As the vicar slipped into the garden with one of the younger female guests, we thanked the hosts for having us. I glanced back before we slipped out the door and caught the hostess rolling her eyes.
“That was one gnarly party,” I said.
“Totally,” Jordan replied.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, so I think you were in Plano. Most definitely. And as for the m&m's- they are no longer reserved for royalty- I was lucky enough to have custom purple ones at my wedding. Dont tell me you've already forgotten! Maybe they were upstaged by the purple candles, purple matchbooks, purple flowers, followed by my purple puke (oh why did I eat the purple m&ms before exposing myself to the sickening array of purple place settings?!)

6:49 PM  
Blogger Tommy Barrett said...

I would be suspicious if I saw Jordan walking through my home too... especially now that he is a drug dealer!!!

8:10 AM  
Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Plano? Having moved from the Metroplex to SoCal, I can authoritatively say that Planonians are pretenders at pretense. Big D is so wannabe L.A., it hurts. It's one thing to be a fake, plastic city; it's another thing entirely to envy a fake, plastic city.

You and Jordan should come down to O.C. sometime. Surfer-rad and fantastically rich collide in a fabulous wreck of real estate, and nobody looks askance at your jeans.

-- J. Prejean

11:12 AM  

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