Friday, January 18, 2008

Feel the Burn, Week IX

NYSD readers may recall an early contributing weekly series "The Adventures of Dickey Scott." Dickey Scott, the creation of a New Yorker named Scott Briggs, was a kind of roman AA clef about a personal trainer working in the gilded halls of Manhattan's higher social circles. Once upon a time, in real life, Mr. Briggs was one of those personal trainers. He discontinued the series a couple of years ago when he sat down to "write the book" about Dickey Scott. Today, Feel the Burn is completed and now available.

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Chapter 10:  Mystery Lovers and Reluctant Mothers

“How was Nantucket?” Dickey asked Claire Goodman, on a sunny yet crisp late October morning in Central Park, as she did giant lunges in front of the Bethesda Fountain.

“You mean last weekend?” she asked, feigning confusion.

“Of course I mean last weekend. When I last saw you on Tuesday of last week, you were busy packing for Nantucket. So how did it go?”

“Uh, actually I didn’t go,” she said between panting breaths. “I went to the Hamptons instead.”

“Really?” Dickey asked, his antennae now on full alert. “But I thought your aunt had cocktail and dinner parties all set up for your annual visit. Did she fall ill or something?”

Claire pretended to be catching her breath. “No. She’s closing the house for the season in a couple of weeks, which can be quite laborious. I decided to visit her then – give her a hand. She’s getting along in years, you know. Dickey studied Claire for a minute. She was hiding something.

“Did you meet someone in the Hamptons?” he asked.

Claire avoided eye contact, which she never does, so Dickey knew that he was onto something. “Well, maybe,” is all she said.

“But you’re not ready to talk about it,” he deduced.

“Uh, huh,” she peeped, pretending to be concentrating on her exercises.

“Okay then it’s a power walk in the Rambles,” Dickey barked.

“Great!” Claire stated with false enthusiasm. She hated the Rambles because of the steep, never ending hills. But Dickey could tell on that day that she wouldn’t mind. She was running on adrenalin and God knows what else.

It had been a perfect night, Charles thought, as he did paperwork at his home in Albany.  His dinner with Claire at Mirko’s in Water Mill the previous Friday and the subsequent nightcap at her sister’s place had been relaxed, entertaining and romantic. Claire’s intellect and knowledge of worldly events matched his own and her sense of humor meshed nicely with his. During dinner, Charles had tried to push back the sexual emotions that were creeping into his thoughts and kidded himself that Claire was simply going to make a great friend – someone he could trust and with whom he could share life’s ups and downs. But by the time they were on their second snifter of cognac, he knew that his plutonic aspirations were all a charade. He was sexually attracted to Claire and he had little doubt that she felt the same way.  He had intended to kiss her on the cheek when he said “good night” but as they stood on her porch, illuminated by only moonlight, Charles kissed her on the lips. She returned the kiss fully and forced it to linger. Charles felt himself stiffen and for an instant thought about suggesting that they return inside. But he resisted and promised to call her soon.

Now back in Albany, he thought about her often. They had talked several times and made plans for another dinner the following weekend in the Hamptons. Any thoughts of trepidation – or the reasons for that trepidation – had been neatly put on a shelf in the back of Charles’ brilliant yet complex mind.

After exhausting Claire Goodman in the Rambles, Dickey headed to Eighty-first Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue – a stone’s throw away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Located mid-block was a five story, limestone townhouse – the new home of Roberta Roberts. Roberta was Dickey’s inaugural private client over ten years earlier when after becoming widowed from husband number two, moved into a recently renovated townhouse, which came equipped with a gym. Dickey had been training Roberta at a health club called, Le Refuge, a tiny place located in the basement of a Park Avenue hotel – a place for people of high profile who liked to sweat and not be seen – except by their own. Le Refuge was his first and only place of outside employment in Manhattan. He had met Caroline there as well. She and Roberta are old, old friends.

Anyway, Roberta recently married husband number three, an extremely wealthy and extremely rotund donut shop franchiser that Caroline and Dickey not so kindly refer to as the Donut King. They purchased this limestone townhouse shortly after getting married and moved in the week prior. Roberta had never really described the place (they bought it after seeing it only once) except to say that it needed a lot of work, so he was dying to lay eyes on it.

Dickey entered the townhouse without knocking because he knew the Donut King was away on business (as usual) and Roberta was used to his unannounced entrances. Once in the foyer, he called out to Roberta but got no reply, so he decided to give himself a brief tour of the ground floor. The place was truly a decorator’s nightmare. The sitting room for instance – with an olive-green sofa and wing-backed chairs patterned with cornucopias of fruit – reminded Dickey of the display window at the Ethan Allen store in his hometown, circa 1975. Roberta, who has always fancied herself as a potential Martha Stewart, told Dickey at their last workout, that she planned on redecorating the place herself. He cringed at the thought.

“Dickey is that you?” Roberta screamed as she pattered down the stairs. “I’m in the sitting room,” he yelled back.

“Come into the living room for a minute,” Roberta requested before blowing him a kiss from the hallway and bounding into the living room.

The room was empty except for a large table that was covered with a drop cloth and cluttered with fabric swatches and tear-outs from Architectural Digest, Elle Décor and so on. It only took him a few minutes of listening to Roberta’s vision for the place to reaffirm what he already knew; Roberta had no taste.  She used the words aqua and peach in the same sentence; and not only should aqua and peach not be uttered in the same sentence, they should never be mentioned at all. Roberta sensed his lack of enthusiasm for her ideas and started to panic. She rearranged her dreadful palette of colors and swatches but the result was even worse. She continued furiously mixing and matching, looking for any sign of approval from Dickey. When she got none – He couldn’t even fake it – her panic turned to frustration and she tossed the swatches in the air. Dickey put his arms around her and chuckled affectionately.

“Roberta, why put yourself through all this anguish? There are people out there that were born to decorate, you my dear are just not one of them.”

Roberta pulled away and began to pout when the phone rang. She dramatically stalked to the other side of the room where a cordless phone lay hidden under a stack of even more tacky fabric swatches.

After introducing herself, the voice on the other end surprised Roberta – it showed in her face. She turned away from him and absent-mindedly played with the tasteless swatches in front of her.

“That’s fabulous, honey,” Roberta said into the phone, with false enthusiasm. “When do you arrive?” Roberta handed Dickey a stack of swatches, hoping to distract his attention from her call. Which of course, didn’t work. “Tomorrow?” Roberta asked, a little panicked. “Why sure, honey. Just call when you get settled. Bye, dear.”

After hanging up the phone, Roberta tried to quickly steer the conversation back to decorating. Dickey interrupted.

“Who was that?”

“What – Oh, you mean the phone call?” Roberta asked, stalling. Dickey nodded. That was just Carter, my son. He’s coming to New York tomorrow. His band is playing here.”

“Carter’s coming to New York?” he asked, surprised. Roberta nodded and gazed into the middle distance, absent-mindedly drawing spirals with her index finger on the dusty table beside her.

“Brilliant boy he was, brilliant boy,” she said, speaking with the detachment of a deceased, casual acquaintance.

Carter Manning was Roberta’s semi-estranged son – the child of her deceased first husband, Carl. The highly intelligent young boy inexplicably at the age of nine started dressing in women’s clothes. At first, he simply raided his mother’s closet and played dress-up privately. But in time, Carter expanded his fantasy playing field and on one infamous occasion - a dinner party hosted by his mother and her second husband, Paul Tanner – Carter walked into the dining room, just prior to dessert, in pearls, lipstick and one of Roberta’s Oscar de la Renta evening gowns. (This was all before Dickey’s time with Roberta, but Caroline was there and told him of the incident years later.)

Soon after the notorious dinner party, Roberta tried to put Carter in therapy but he refused to speak. She tried two other therapists but Carter never uttered a word. The following year, Roberta put Carter in Hillside, a junior boarding school in Massachusetts. Surprisingly, Carter never attempted to dress in drag while away at school but he continued to do so while at home on vacations. Seven years later, after having transferred to the prestigious college preparatory school, Choate, his freshmen year, Carter graduated number one in his class and gained early admission to Harvard.

Without explanation, he dropped out a year later and moved to Paris. Once there, he and three other young, disillusioned Harvard dropouts formed a band satirically called, The Nixonettes. The lead singer of the band was a cross-dressing blonde man with a beautiful counter tenor voice named Perestroika. The lead singer was of course, Roberta’s son Carter.

The band reportedly had been the rage in underground, avantguarde European haunts for several years, singing anthems about the woes and pretensions of western society. No one that Dickey knew had ever seen the band or Perestroika and Roberta had only seen her son during a handful of lunches while in Paris for the Spring and Fall collections. Roberta had never mentioned her son to Dickey in the ten-plus years that he had known her. Dickey knew all of this from Caroline and the gossip mill that resided in his world.

Author, Scott Briggs
Dickey handed the swatches back to Roberta and nodded towards the front door. “Why don’t we do the reservoir today,” he suggested. “The fresh air suddenly sounds like a good idea.”

Roberta nodded, subconsciously gazing towards the front door. “Damn good idea,” she commented, before tossing the swatches in the fireplace and striding towards the foyer with confidence – a confidence that belied the unsettling emotions of a mother who seemed both put off and somewhat terrified that her only offspring was about to re-enter her life.