I was fantastically ill the week I stayed at the swankiest Manhattan hotel I had ever, and would ever, see. I have sent for my chest x-ray so later on I may share it with you. It was a sickness that would laugh at chemotherapy years later. An unprecedented sickness, the kind that makes you want your mommy. Or a gun.
A uniformed operator opened the brass gate of the elevator for me, closed the gate and effectively sealed me in, triggering one of my earlier claustrophobic episodes. I was already on high-alert, so the aging tin box being dragged up 35 floors on a noisy metal rope just topped off my stuffed-up anxiety-filled head.
It was my first business trip and, while I was going to be a slave for 5 days on the lowest rung on the totem ladder, I was still at the New York City Tabletop Show and it was all very glam and exciting. Little sniffles on the hour train in didn’t faze me that much, but I hoped they would abate by the time I got there because there is A LOT of 2-cheek kissing and general co-breathing in the tabletop industry. Close quarters would be something like a submarine, this was 30 clowns in a Fiat.
Down a narrow corridor (think Haunted Mansion in Orlando) was the door to my room. I opened the door to what I thought was the tiniest double room ever, only to realize that I was standing in some sort of foyer to my plush lodgings. It was a three-room affair, including a dressing area/make-up table, a separate little room with a refrigerator, ironing board, and phone stand; the bedroom itself had two large comfy chairs and fringed incandescent lamps. While blow-dryers are now standard in hotel rooms, this is the first time I would ever see one. It was a room to die for, which was fitting given my health.
I have been star-struck on many occasions; I freely admit that even the sight of the Naked Cowboy made me too frozen in my tracks to take a photo. Shania Twain and Martina McBride (at autograph sessions) have left me too dazed to get out of the way for the person next in line. I was very star-struck at the tabletop show to meet and greet editors of magazines. I had been looking at their pictures for so long that finally meeting them was like seeing an old friend (dressed way better than you). Some of them had borrowed china and crystal for photo shoots and those people sought me out at the shows and were very thankful for my services…simultaneously shaking my hand and pouring attention on my rapidly worsening sickly being. They were buttering me up for next season ‘s favors, and I didn’t mind it a bit. I tried not to sneeze on anyone.
The first day we Windexed the whole showroom. You read that right, the secret to a shiny crystal showroom is about 30 bottles of Windex (or equivalent).. One more tip: when the crystal gets here from Ireland, it goes into a regular dishwasher before it is wrapped and shipped to you. I hope this will make you less afraid of your crystal and more likely to use and enjoy it.
The second day of the preparation week the designers started trickling in. Loyal readers know I love me a gay man, and this was like La Cage Au Folles meets Brokeback Mountain. Except for one singular man, the men were particularly gracious to those of us doing the grunt work. One queen was the stereotype of all that is wrong with gender-bias political correctness. He would move a pillow (that had been carefully arranged for photography so no shadows would appear) about one inch and go “voila” like he was the pope christening the next baby king. He had some kind of special authority, because everyone got out of his way and let him make his miniscule adjustments to the show room. Perhaps they just had to get out of the wake of his cologne, a blend of Old Spice and arrogance.
Every night was a mandatory-attendance dinner. These dinners would entertain editors of all my favorite magazines, and I volunteered to take group photos so I didn’t have to be in them. This was pre-digital days and being the person with the film was a huge coup. It would take a few days to get the pictures developed and you would be the only one to have, copy, and disperse them. One time someone even offered to buy my unprocessed film!
By day three I had to admit that this was no ordinary bronchial thing and that the respectful thing to do would be to go home. I cried a little on my princess brass bed, grabbed 2 – 20 packs of tissues and made my way to the boss to apprise her of my imminent departure. She was calm when she explained to me that the company was paying a fortune for me to be here, my help was needed and I was not going anywhere young lady.
Congested to the point where I couldn’t think and my lungs feeling like giant cats were sleeping inside of them, I took a train and spent a night at a friend’s Westchester home, where I was tea’d, honeyed, drugged and Vicks vapo-rubbed. Sick as I was, everyone thought I left for the night to meet a mysterious man. This added to my already blooming cache as a grown-up, and i said nothing to correct or deny the rumors.
Early the next morning I returned to the 41 Madison Avenue showroom for one more 10-hour day in four-inch heels. When the show was over, I took the hour-long train ride home and went right from the station to Dr. Krazy’s. He wanted to chest x-ray me and perhaps send me to the hospital. We compromised on a cocktail that would put me out for a few days and increase the intimacy I shared with my boss over my current attendance record. It was sort of the beginning of the end of what might have been my dream job.