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I just went on my big trip for the year and made sure to bring along a passport, credit cards, guidebooks, and lube. It was all the way up to 72nd and Madison–to a house party for a decorator friend of my favorite scandal gal Roxanne Pulitzer, who I knew wouldn’t find my safari gear declasse. Once through customs and adjusting my watch, I was able to aim my Polaroid at a veritable host of touristy attractions. Not only was there expressionist art and Swedish meatballs, but so much surgery on display that lips, cheekbones, and chins were jutting out at me like the slopes of Aspen. This was quite different from downtown, where only a penis goes under the knife. Here, everyone looked the same–either 20 or 90, depending on how the light hit–though the mood was pleasant enough, since those who still could were smiling.

In the bedroom, a guest anxiously pushed past me to call her mother, who’d just had surgery. “Awww,” I moaned, sympathetically. “A face-lift,” she deadpanned. In the living room, a chanteuse described as the Asian Shirley Bassey was belting that Titanic song that makes you instinctively reach for a life raft. Everyone looked stunned–or maybe they just couldn’t blink. Rather than jump ship, I caught up with Roxanne, who was singing the praises of Pilates, while her hubby flashed a box of Smoker’s Vitamins. This is the same guy she broke up with a couple of years ago, but Roxanne told me that after she sued him (a long story), they got back together, clearly turned on by the financial antagonism. “And a vibrator only goes so far,” she laughed.

By now, the telephone lady had finished her call and announced, “My mother’s fine. I’ll get one next.” But in the meantime, she lifted the mike from the Shirley Bassey woman and started singing “New York, New York”! Just then, Tina Louise popped up and revealed unexpected talents of her own. Her book, Sunday, she said, “is like a birthing. It’s growing! Howard Stern said he cried when he read it.” (I bet Robin Quivers kept on giggling, though.) Just what is this growing birthing about anyway? Well, said Tina, “I was born to a teenage mother and went through a period of abandonment”–in day care, not on Gilligan’s Island. She feels her story’s extremely topical now that babies are being born into trash cans, closets, and toilets. “There’s no communication,” she lamented. “This is 1998 and there’s no comfort level!” Plus the Swedish meatballs had run out.

And so had I–back downtown, to Timothy Greenfield-Sanders‘s bash for the birthing of his loving PBS documentary Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart, where I didn’t see a single pregnant teen or any other kind of premature implant. The scene was like Max’s Kansas City 20-some-odd years later, all the old punks now coming off like rich icons with very high comfort levels (though they can still certainly throw attitude). Greenfield-Sanders told me the movie leaves out the specifics of Reed’s sexual walk on the wild side because “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll is such a cliche.” Oh no, you mean I’m two-thirds of a cliche?

As for that other third–if we can move on here–one wonders if the creators of Midtown’s musical about Uptown, High Society, are society or just high. But let’s be fair–the show is nowhere near as campily horrific as I’d hoped. There’s some fizz to the thing, and John McMartin (as the drunken letch) and Anna Kendrick (as the all-knowing brat) pepper the night with saucy shtick. Alas, the interpolation of unrelated Cole Porter songs is as strained as baby food (“Say, what’s that exotic dancer like?” segues into “She’s Got That Thing”). Even more fatally, while Melissa Errico‘s a fine singer-dancer, she radiates not one iota of chemistry with any of the three guys she has to juggle all night–perhaps understandably, as they’re all rather reptilian. The gods of Broadway were clearly being capricious when they gave Errico every single component of musical comedy stardom except a natural instinct for acting. But at least she doesn’t need surgery.

That nonmusical about bi society, The Judas Kiss, comes alive when it gets really depressing in act two. But most depressingly, while both the play’s acts begin with nudity, Liam Neeson stays fully clothed throughout–probably because they didn’t want the folks in the balcony to get their eyes poked out.

Keep your eyes peeled for the male genitals in Artemisia, a French flick about Artemisia Gentileschi that’s alternately exquisite and exquisitely boring. Before the premiere screening, as art dealer Richard L. Feigen gave a speech about Artemisia’s Caravaggio-esque lighting and mythic stature as a figure painter, everyone (all right, I) was turning around to see if cohost Madonna had arrived. She had, but for once wasn’t the centerpiece of the evening’s controversy.

See, Erica Jong‘s daughter Molly was busy handing out protest fliers by the bathroom (courtesy of Gloria Steinem and art historian Mary Garrard) saying the movie glorifies the “multiple sex offender” who was convicted of Artemisia’s rape and feeds into stereotypes of women falling in love with their rapists. Two seconds later, the well-prepared Miramax folks supplied a response from the director, Agnes Merlet, which reminded that the movie shows Artemisia reacting violently to the rape, and added that, like it or not, she and the scoundrel seem to have shared a passionate relationship afterward. Come on, you don’t get this kind of debate after movies like Paulie.

Anyway, when I asked Valentina Cervi, who plays Artemisia, what she thinks of the criticism, she replied in plain French: “Bullshit!” She then blithely segued from BS into PR, telling me that in two weeks she begins filming a dark comedy called Nothing on Robert. Gee, do I smell more male genitalia?

There’s no connection here, but I’m fascinated by those new Gap Kids windows, which feature some of the most unintentionally salacious images since Artemisia’s oils. The displays consist of creepy pairs of young, headless bodies, one doing a handstand as the other helpfully holds onto its shins with cloth hands. (In the West 30s store one night, a hand was actually leaning against the upside-down one’s ass, but they’d fixed it by the next day.) Adjacent to these daffy duos whose faces have been lifted–off–are unexplained lineups of headless kids on their knees. I called the Gap for comment, but they bounced me around to three different reps, none of whom could come up with a rationale in time for deadline.

But allow me one more comment on headless doings–namely the Rainforest Alliance benefit at the Pierre last week, another gathering of uptown swells being cheeky, but not jowly. The event may not have been as grueling as a sex trial, but it was one of those trying experiences that you endure because you care either about the charity or the free dinner (guess which one brought me there). Host Chevy Chase presented three extremely diverse Green Globe awards (to an anthropologist, a designer, and Olivia Newton-John), gave us ecologically sound advice I’m sure he’ll take (e.g., try car pools), and bantered with various celebs about how, to avoid guilt, they use “sustainably harvested” SmartWood for their luxury homes. As a diversion, an animal mimic performed monkey and pigeon calls, later rendering the same impressions on helium. I ran home, where a vibrator was ecologically sound, but only went so far.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 12, 1998

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