Cindy Stubenstock is trading up – at a recent auction, she flipped two Gurskys, an early Yuskavage and her husband’s bonus, and was on the phone later live from London topping the bidding on a rare Picasso etching that looked ‘beautiful over the fireplace’.
‘Gives whole new meaning to up in smoke,’ the cryptic British auctioneer mumbled under his breath.
Now Cindy and her Scarsdale sisterhood – aka the ladies who linger at lunch – are on the tarmac at Teterboro, wandering from plane to plane.
‘There never used to be so many,’ one says.
‘Do we really need to take two planes?’
‘Well, there are six of us and I just hate being crowded, and besides, what if I want to leave early?’ They all nod, knowing the feeling.
‘Just the thought of being trapped somewhere makes me nervous – does anyone have anything – a little blue, a little yellow?’
‘I’ve got Ativan.’
‘I’ll take it.’
‘We’re going to Miami, it’s not the rain forest, not the darkest Peru, you can get a commercial flight out any time you want – just call JetBlue,’ one of the women says.
And the others look at her horrified, aghast, shocked that she can even say the words ‘commerical flight’ so easily, without pause. Flying private is one of the perks of being who they are; it’s why they put up with so much. NO airport security.
‘Soon that will change, they’re going to have scented dogs everywhere.’
‘It’s not scented dogs, it’s sniffing dogs. Scented dogs would be like soaps, verbena, vanilla, Macchu Picchu.’
‘Why do you always correct me? I’m an old woman – leave me alone.’
‘You’re forty-eight, you’re not old.’
And then there is silence.
‘Which plane is it? He keeps trading them in. I never know which one is ours.’
‘She calls it trading them in – he calls it fractional ownership,’ one of the women whispers.
‘G4, Falcon, Citation, Hawker, Learjet – remember when they were all “Learjets”? Remember when the word “Learjet” used to mean something?’
‘Who is that bald man in the wheelchair? He looks familiar – do I know him from somewhere?’
‘Is it Philip Johnson?’
‘Philip Johnson died two years ago.’
‘That’s so sad.’
‘Is that Yul Brynner?’
‘It’s someone with cancer.’
‘What’s he doing here?’
‘He’s getting an Angel Flight back to where he lives,’ one of the ground crew says. ‘People donate flights – for those who are basically too sick to travel.’
‘Oh, I don’t think I could ever do that – I couldn’t have a sick person on the plane – I mean, what about the germs?’
‘I don’t normally think of cancer as contagious.’
‘You never know.’ She runs her hand through her hair – which she gels in the morning with Purell – prophylactically.
The group divides; Sally Stubenstock, the society sister of Cindy, and her ‘friend’ Tasha, the yoga instructor, go on their own plane. ‘We want alone time,’ Tasha says.
‘She wants to downward dog me at 10,000 feet,’ Sally says.
‘It’s gross,’ someone whispers.
‘What do you care – they’re not asking you to do it.’
‘Women kiss better than men – it’s a fact.’
‘How would you know?’
‘Because one night Wallis (the weird woman who has a man’s last name for her first name) Wallingford planted one right on me.’
‘Was she drunk?’
‘I don’t think so. It felt very good.’
‘Better than a man?’
She nods. ‘Softer, more thoughtful.’
Cindy Stubenstock puts her fingers in her ears and hums loudly and sings, ‘This is something I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know-oh-o.’
The conversation stops. They climb aboard. The pilot pulls the door closed and locks it. The women take their seats and then take other seats. They move around the cabin until they are comfortable. They put all their fur coats together on one seat.
‘Where are you staying? The Raleigh, the Delano, the Biltmore?’
‘I’m staying at Pinkie and Paulie’s.’
‘Really?’ Cindy asks.
Her friend nods.
‘I’ve never stayed at someone’s house,’ Cindy Stubenstock confesses. ‘How do you do it? When you get there – what do you do – how do you check in?’
‘It’s like going for dinner or cocktails – you knock on the door and hopefully someone answers.’
‘Does someone take your bag? Do you tip them? And what if you can’t sleep – what if you need to get up and walk around? Do you have your own bathroom – I can’t stay anywhere without my own bathroom even with my husband. If you pee, do you flush? What if someone hears you? It just seems so stressful.’
‘When you were growing up, did you ever go on a sleepover?’
‘Just once – I got homesick and my father came and got me – it seemed like the middle of the night but my parents always used to tease me – it was really only about 11 pm.’
‘When I go to someone’s house – I bring a clean sheet,’ another woman chimes in.
‘And remake the bed?’
‘No, I wrap myself in it – do you know how infrequently most blankets are laundered – including hotel blankets – think of the hundreds of people who have used the same blanket.’
‘What’s for dinner tonight?’ someone asks.
‘A big corned-beef sandwich. That’s what I go to Miami for – Wolfie’s. I get sick every time – but I can’t resist. It reminds me of my grandparents – and of my childhood.’
‘I thought you were a vegetarian?’
‘By the way, whatever happened with that Brice Marden painting you were trying to buy?’
‘It’s still pending – we haven’t completed our interview.’
‘Some of the galleries now have a vetting process – there is a company that will interview potential buyers, about everything from their assets, hobbies and intentions for their collections – and once that’s done – they schedule a home visit.’
‘Exactly, we still need the home visit, but CeeCee has been so busy with the re-do that she won’t let anyone from the gallery into the house.’
‘What are you doing?’
‘We’re going from day to night – swapping all the black paintings for white, we sold the Motherwells and the Stills and now she’s bringing in Ryman, Richter and a Whiteread bookcase.’
‘Sounds great – very relaxing – no color at all.’
‘I heard you bought a Renoir in London.’
‘We had a good year. I like it so much I want to fuck it.’
‘When we got our Rothko – we had sex on the floor in front of it.’
‘Those were the days…’
‘And when we got the Pollock.’
‘Well, you got that really big one.’
‘The room is so large that it’s all relative.’
‘Do you remember that time we were all on that art tour and they let us touch a few things – Stanley stroked the Birth of Venus and got excited?’
‘Stanley, the seeing-eye horse – or Stanley your husband?’
‘Stanley, the human. He was mortified.’
‘I thought it was cute.’
‘Where is Stanley this weekend?’
‘Stan, the man, is playing golf and Stanley the seeing-eye horse is having his teeth cleaned this weekend and so the society gave me a stick.’ She holds up a white cane. ‘Like this is going to do me any good. I’ve got a docent meeting me for the fair – a young curator.’
‘God, I remember when Stanley, the horse, tried to mount the stuffed pony that your parents sent your son…’
‘We were all there – the Hanukah party.’
‘It plagued my son – the sight of Stanley trying to “hop” the pony. He said hop – instead of hump – it was soo sweet.’
‘There are people who are into that – stuffed animals. “Plushies” they call them.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘And they invite stuffed animals?’
‘Speaking of animal behaviour – are we preparing for takeoff yet?’
‘I’m sorry, Mrs Stubenstock,’ the pilot says. ‘There’s military aircraft in the area – and the airspace has been closed down.’
‘Oh now, is the President coming to town again? Thank God we’re leaving – he always blocks traffic.’
‘We’re third in line for takeoff as soon as the air opens.’
‘We usually fly on Larry’s plane, he redecorates it for every flight. Different art work depending on where we’re going. Something for LA, something for Basel, something for Venice.’
‘That’s because he’s trying to sell you something.’
‘No, I don’t think so. We always ask, and he tells us that whatever it is we want – it’s not for sale.’
‘That’s how he does it – that’s how he gets you.’
‘Did you hear about Sarah and Steve’s Warhol worries?’
‘Turns out their Warhols aren’t Warhols – they’re knockoffs like cheap Louis Vuittons on Canal Street.’
‘But they have Polaroids of Andy signing the pictures. Andy and Steve standing together while Andy signed them.’
‘Apparently he would sign anything, but that didn’t mean that he made it.’
‘They were banking on those pictures – literally.’
‘Well, you know what they say – you should never be dependent on your art collection to do anything for you that you can’t do for yourself.’
‘Are you invited to the VIP party?’
‘The VIP parties aren’t the good parties – there are no invites for the real parties, you just have to know where they are.’
‘I told Susie that I would go to the dinner but only as long as I didn’t have to sit next to an artist – I never know what to say to them.’
‘I always ask them if they’re starving – and they never get it,’ Cindy says. ‘I’ve noticed that most of the younger artists are carnivores. Remember when artists only ate things like sprouts and bags of “greens” that they carried with them? Now they all eat meat – it’s all post-Damien.’
‘Don’t you remember – Damien Hirst’s first big piece was really very small… It was a piece of steak that his father had choken on. Young Damien gave his father the Heimlich maneuver and the steak came flying out of his mouth and he could breathe again. Damien saved the piece of steak and put it in a jar of formaldehyde that he got from the school and called it I Saved My Father’s Life – Now What Will Become of Us.’
‘I never heard that story.’
Cindy Stubenstock shrugs. ‘It’s famous. I think the piece is in the Saatchi collection in London.
A M Homes,1961
Cindy Stubenstock, in, The Book of Other People, 2007 (Zadie Smith, Editor)
Image: Lisa Yuskavage