Saturday, November 28, 2015

Guest Diary

The Man in the Navy Bentley (Stone Soup)

Fairy Tales of Manhattan: The Man in the Navy Bentley
by Julie Baumgold

One June afternoon four mature men, still moist from their nine holes, were at a table deconstructing four Century Club club sandwiches. Gordon pulled out all the lettuce, Cohn had removed the tomatoes, Freidberg had piled up his bacon in cross-hatched stacks when a short shadow crossed their table, moving rapidly.

"Was that a nod? I think that was a nod," said Cohn. "He certainly should have come over."

"He once told me 'If there is a problem, you ask the question, and if the answer is not money, you ask the question again,'" said the fourth man.

"I thought cell phones aren't allowed on the terrace," said Freidberg.

"Parking there is not allowed either," said Cohn as they watched the valet running to the navy Bentley in the driveway.

"Do you think he really didn't see us?" said Freidberg.

"I know he's seen our statements," said the fourth man who, though his sandwich was intact, had lost his appetite.

"Always that same fucking archaic smile. And how about that habit he has of taking his shoes off, parking them under the table when he eats."

Three of them were doing calculations, thinking just how much money they had put into The Green Door, Phil Lowe's still unopened supper club with the much touted green malachite walls and the ostrich skin seats. Very 1980's, after all. Those seats came from Cohn while the malachite walls were from Gordon who also had put $12 million into The Lowe Fund. All of them were doing very well on paper.

Freidberg, who not been allowed to invest in either the club or the fund, took a bite of his diminished sandwich and did not tell the other men he had been turned down.

After having been assessed with a quick but focused conversation in the noise of the Sherry Netherland ballroom, he had heard Phil Lowe's famous phrase "Your minimum with me is ..." Freidberg, staring at the small American flag pin on Lowe's dinner jacket, quickly said he was not comfortable with that amount.

"Then, no," said Lowe who had shrugged with his plump palms up and walked away. Freidberg felt a little spurt of relief and then immediately regretted it. He thought there were no second chances with Lowe.

"I put in his goddamn seventeen Chihuly chandeliers," said the fourth man and everyone knew what just he meant.

Philip Lowe, wearing his American flag pin now on the collar of his Masters shirt, got in his car and felt the sweat spot his forehead. A big hard hand came out of the sky and squeezed his chest. The glove compartment slid open on his dish of aspirins and Xanax and he crunched a few as he did the math. He was always doing the math, always counting. Of just this group; Cohn 4, Gordon 15, that other guy just the 2.3 for the chandeliers, and a big nada from that shitheel Freidberg.

What he needed immediately was 8 from the widow that would get him through the month. She had called a day ago, her call promptly returned as his calls always were, and an agreement made to speak later this day on the phone. Lowe kept his calls brief because, despite all the lessons, his voice was never a selling point. What did sell them was the full appreciation of him in his environment, the "ambience" as he called it: swiveling to show his profile against the skyline from his office, ensconced among his possessions, off in a foreign land, on a leased yacht, at whatever was considered the right table. Phil Lowe, however much he tried, did not make it the right table.
"Sonia" he crooned into the console. He felt this deal was done. The widow had known him even before he was rich.

"I've got good news. I'm letting you into the Fund after all and you can come in for the completion of my Green Door. You must see it too, meet our chef and join me for, uh, ... after lunch. Eight will do it ...

"Leonard thinks this is not a good idea." Sonia said after a pause "For me, at least. He said ..."

"You shouldn't listen …You know how many people come to me every day begging ..."

"I'm really sorry. I know we'll still be friends and I hope Kathy still invites me to ...

"Of course, it's a promise."

That big sky hand was pressing and squeezing as Lowe thought of the unfinished green malachite walls and beyond that to the maw of the fund and the expensive Georgia swampland which would remain swampland forever and the problems that Sonia the bitch would not help him escape for a week, or even a day more.

Lowe sort of hoped he was having a heart attack, one of the ones from which there was no chance of recovery, one of the ones that would dump the prosecution and the prison time and the groveling shame and fury on someone else, even if it meant his heirs. That's how he always thought of his family.

And then he thought of his baby, his final baby that he loved more than any of his children, his personal self-designed monument, his Mar-a-Lago, his Taj, his revenge on the world for increasingly ancient snubs and slights, the manic to his depression.

The Green Door, name inspired by that old song his father liked: Knock once, try to tell them you've been there/ Door slams, hospitality's thin there/ Green door, wonder what's going on in there ...

The sad thing is that he knew just what was going on in there and, though he should have been more upset about the fund, it had gone on so long undetected that the Door had become his focus. He had to finish it. He had to walk a few more people through the construction dust and sell them. A little from this one a little from that one and then a club of rich people who only liked to hang out with other rich people in a city of rich people who could not get in.

He loved it because it was a little acceptable fraud perched on top of the gigantic fraud that was his current life. Then Phil Lowe did what he always did at these moments of extremis: he refused to think about it.

He would call Mauritzio and talk to him about getting some Luna models there for the opening. He would shuffle his friends who appeared to him like cards with dollar signs attached and see who he might go to for the next ingredient in his fabulous soup of the evening.

Beautiful soup so rich and green
Waiting in a hot tureen
Who for such dainties would not stoop
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup

Only he remembered it as swirling in a hot tureen. What the fuck.

The soft opening of The Green Door began very well, the vibrations of hotness flew out into the jealous crowds of the late September night. The walls of the room, the exact color of a Pellegrino bottle, were ringed with tables full of rich men and shiny browed women all staring down at the tender but scant flesh of Mauritzio's people in the pit and the celebrities he had paid to be there.

There was Cohn and Gordon and Sonia Jacobson after all in her emerald earrings and even Freidberg who he had obliged to pay 10K a year in advance for his membership and a few hundred others from Rio and Miami and Paris and London and now out pranced the waiters in their striped silk vests carrying the soup.

He and Chef Pinon had decided to revive the idea of turtle soup because it was green or could be made green enough and it amused them to serve something that all these spoiled over-cultivated palates had never eaten outside of New Orleans where none of them went anyway.

The turtles were hideous. They were slimy and frightening and from another prehistoric time crawling all over each other in their grass lined crates. The soup was as politically incorrect as Lowe often was.

Kathy had begged him not to use the turtles, to take them in a wagon to the boat lake in Central Park and, in the dead of night, set them free. The young heirs made vomiting sounds with their fingers in their mouth when he told them what he had in mind. The older heirs from his first marriage already thought he was crazy and yet they worked with him. They had done the statements for years and one of them had found the swampland.

Chef Pinon had used an old Craig Claiborne recipe for the soup that began "To kill the turtle, place a wooden object in its mouth and pull to extend the neck away from the shell ... Hang the turtle neck side down ... to bleed."

In the center of the shallow soup bowl a large turtle shell floated. A few of the women jumped up from their chairs.

Phil Lowe sat back against the pimples of ostrich skin watching. His shiny plum Berluti shoes were lined up under the table. He wiggled the toes he had just sprung in their little sock traps. He was counting the potential house accounts, probably his last firework before all came down in a shower of sparks.

Kathy Lowe dabbed at her lips in the mirror of the gold minaudiere so she would not have to look at anyone. She was a big fan of clothing with Italian labels and crime programs on television especially the one where a team of FBI behavioral analysts flew in on their luxurious private jet to solve the most gruesome serial killings.

The waiters brought out baskets of warm and crusty rolls full of demon carbohydrates. In this city of perpetual challenge it was yet another one –to not ever eat anything really delicious.

The businessmen all around the room were each thinking that it might almost be time to get out of the Fund. At the same time they were afraid if they took their money out they might not be able to get back in. And yet, despite the buy and sell confirms, the quarterly reports, the 1099s something was wrong. This was the night they each felt it, as they stared down into the inedible grotesque soup.

Soon I will be a man in an orange uniform crapping in a corner of my cell with guards watching me on monitors, Phil Lowe thought.

On cue, the seventeen Chilhuly chandeliers were dimmed, Lowe struggled into his shoes under the table, kissed Kathy, his wife of 37 years, on her powdery cheek, looked around for his heirs who were down in the pit mingling with the models, having much too good a time. Their children would be the usual drifting creatives of the third generation and Lowe knew he would never get a chance to meet any of them.