Thursday, October 29, 2009

Washington Social Diary

The face of friendship: children at Georgetown's Rose Park Halloween parade.
The Novelist, The Hostess and the Philanthropy Diva
by Carol Joynt

This is a story of friendship, such as it is in Washington, DC, where even politics and espionage have nothing on the underlying ambition that ties woman to woman, man to man, man to woman. Friendship here is a precarious contract, spawned from essential urges – need, want, usefulness, which quickly turn dark when whisked together with power. Oh, it can be a poison brew, and thus a story suited to this Halloween week.

The last time I was with them, the Hostess tossed an intimate, private and exclusive “ladies” lunch for the Novelist. According to the two women, they were the best of friends. Their influential husbands were friends, too. They were at each other’s chic parties, dished on the phone the morning after, conspired happily and praised each other to friends. They had so many friends in common.

The Philanthropy Diva was an outsider but still a force to be reckoned with. She had money, lots of nice, new money, and was generous in spilling it around town. For a second, imagine Washington as an old school Monopoly game, where board seats are the prized real estate. In short order PD passed “go” with a flourish, zoomed round the board and amassed for herself a meaningful chunk of the landscape, adding it to the pile already created by her unusual foundation – named after herself.

But she wasn’t especially popular here. She had a prickly personality, didn’t know how to play the media well and every time she missed a step it was said she overstepped. Her husband didn’t help matters, because he was rumored to be keeping score. Besides, the Philanthropy Diva was a big D Diva and her husband was said to be mostly in her shadow.

None of these women was to the city born, and none had the alliances that come with Washington longevity, but the novelist and hostess had each other and each had potent forces at hand. The Hostess had a sumptuous venue for parlaying her skills, and an apparently robust entertaining budget, which won her lots of glossy ink and a good list. People liked her. The Novelist grew up with the wealth and privilege most Washington players only read about in her novels. She had a varsity game and brought it the capital. People liked and feared her.

Then one day the Novelist decided to situate her next novel in the city she’d come to know and (sort of) love. Many of her friends, and some acquaintances, appear cleverly almost as themselves, including a loving version of the Hostess. She made the Philanthropy Diva the protagonist. As novelists are wont to do, she used her gifts for fiction and drama to amp the PD into a scheming, duplicitous, power-mad, home-wrecking monster that could only be played by Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford.
When the book was published, the Hostess gave that “ladies” lunch for the Novelist and in her toast talked about their great and good friendship. Each lady was given a signed copy of the book, and they raced home to run their fingers over every sentence, giggling or groaning at the familiar characters. There was plenty of buzz in the local press. Some noses were bent out of joint, but everyone survived.

Tonight the Hostess is giving a dinner party for a new White House golden boy. It’s a coveted invitation; a gathering of the A list in well-edited form. There will be cocktails and canapés, a gorgeous room, delicious food, warm and happy toasts. But what there won’t be is the presence of the Novelist, because the Hostess called her and said, “You may have heard, I’m having this dinner party for so-and-so and he’s a friend of the Philanthropy Diva and I can’t, well, have you in the room.”
I believe the Novelist saw it another way, a way not flattering to the Hostess, her once very good friend. The Hostess, sensing this, attempted a few more entreaties, but in every version she said the Novelist was not welcome at the dinner. There was a chance – God forbid – that the Philanthropy Diva’s score-keeping husband might cause a scene. (Personally, I would love that). Finally, the Hostess had her secretary call the Novelist and offer another dinner. Varsity players don’t take consolation prizes. The Novelist said, “No, thank you.” Privately she told her friends, “not now, not ever.”

And that is why Harry Truman supposedly said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

The Novelist does, indeed, have a dog.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. Visit her at: