John Kerry’s deep, droning, earnest voice began to resonate through the penthouse of the Hotel Gansevoort, and the room full of fancy young people fell silent and looked up at a big TV screen.
“I play hockey because it’s fun,” Mr. Kerry said. “You just have good camaraderie. It’s a challenge. There’s a little bit of gladiator in all of us, I think. Wayne Gretzky was asked, ‘Why are you such a good hockey player?’ And he said, ‘You know, most guys go to where the puck is. And I go to where the puck is gonna be. And that’s really itself a statement about the issues you pick to fight on …. “
Finally, the DVD on the big-screen TV froze and the host, 31-year-old Chris Heinz, the would-be First Stepson and aspiring Congressman, gave a quick speech. “So who’s excited about John Edwards as the Vice Presidential pick?” he asked, which elicited many whooo!’s.
“Yeah, until that happened, I was considered the charisma of the campaign,” Mr. Heinz deadpanned. “So that was a very good week for me. Not only do we have John Edwards, we got his 4-year-old doppelgänger son just ripping up the campaign circuit. But, seriously, it has been an amazing week; we’ve been at this a year and a half. Actually, John longer-apparently 20 years.”
Silence. Someone asked Mr. Heinz if he’d seen Fahrenheit 9/11. He had.
“My reaction was, ‘Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you,'” he said, mangling the phrase. (It wasn’t clear whether he was mocking President Bush, who screwed up the saying in the film. Either way, a few people in the crowd tittered). “I think some of it speaks for itself, some of it’s editorializing. I enjoyed watching it. I don’t agree with it all, but if it helps get votes out for the Democrats on Nov. 2, I’m all for it. One more.”
Soon, the cocktail party continued.
There were some cynics in the midst, like late arrival Hudson Morgan, an assistant to Daily News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove. Mr. Morgan took one look at the scene and pronounced it “soul-crushing”.
In the crush, plenty of those souls were checking each other out, and there was much interest in the thick, solidly built, vaguely handsome host.
Mr. Heinz was asked to ponder the mysterious, elusive soul of his stepfather.
“The inner soul of John Kerry?” said Mr. Heinz, who was surrounded by a group of women, among them singer Sasha Lazard and magazine publisher Christina Greeven Cuomo. “First and foremost, he’s a father and an activist, those two things. Playing with Jack Edwards, John Edwards’ son- just look at him with a little kid, a moment of innocence, you’ll see what kind of a person he is.”
Asked about last week’s photo op, in which his mother famously extricated little Jack Edwards’ thumb from his mouth, Mr. Heinz said, “I think she was just trying to help him out.”
Did she ever do that to him when he was a boy? “I don’t remember. I was on a bottle until I was 18.”
Techno star Moby said he’d spent some time with Mr. Kerry.
Is he fun?
“Part of it is just the patrician air of the Senate that he carries with him, but I mean, he windsurfs and he snowboards, and he rides motorcycles and plays guitar. He’s a very dynamic man. He and I have played guitar together-he seems to really enjoy it.”
Moby, who used to be next-door neighbors to the Bush family in Greenwich, Conn., thinks Kerry’s a superior type of WASP.
“I think they each represent two different components of the WASP-y tradition,” he said. “Like George Bush is the sort of drunken frat boy who you’d be profoundly nervous to let your sister date. And John Kerry is like the serious student who you’d love to see your sister marry.”
Adam Block, a 21-year-old “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” senior at the University of Michigan, judged the candidates in terms of their ability to party.
“What kind of guy is John Kerry? … He wouldn’t be the kind of guy you’d have a beer with, but he’d be, you know, the wise, intelligent, well-spoken, articulate-that kind of guy. A father figure … a grandfather figure.”
And President Bush?
“He’s not your drinking buddy-he’s your coke buddy. He’s your coke buddy! The guy’s an idiot.”
Danielle Beinstein, a 23-year-old New York University graduate, said that she was “so juiced up” about John Edwards, “I can’t even tell you! I think he brings optimism, idealism, but a sense of-he looks like he’s 35, but he’s 51. And I just-everything about him! Yes, he has the charisma. Clinton had it, Kennedy had it. I don’t know if I’m more attracted to him or want him to be my father, so I think he has both elements. I think he has a very, very sexy element, but I think he also had a very paternal element. His overall persona is invigorating and paternal, and that’s just the perfect mix.”
Andrew Stengel, the former Miramax exec and screenwriter, tried to explain the inner Kerry. “If Clinton was Elvis, Kerry is Dylan,” he said. “You like that? Let me think of a good one-hit wonder for Bush. Bush is Gerardo. And the administration? Men at Work. More like men not at work.”
Two pretty girls who work for a Condé Nast publication looked around the room.
“I just sort of feel, if you live in Manhattan and you’re young and upwardly mobile, this is a better alternative than going to a bar,” said Condé Nast Girl No. 1. “Say you’re an investment banker-you’re going to go out on a Saturday night and meet a lot of women, right? You’re gonna spend a lot of money.”
“Well, also, this is way classier,” said Condé Nast Girl No. 2.
“And there are all these wild cards in a bar,” said No. 1. “Maybe she’s a Republican, maybe she’s a hooker-it could be anything. You go to a Kerry fund-raiser, you spend the money you would spend on drinks on a Presidential campaign, and you’re guaranteed something nicer. It’s a politically minded, upwardly mobile singles’ bar.”
“I think it’s very reflective that Chris Heinz is the host,” said No. 2.
“He’s channeling a certain scene.”
“Fancy-ish,” said No. 1. “Not the Met ball. Go down.”
“It’s very magazine hip crowd,” said no. 2. “I actually heard a woman say to another woman, ‘Do you think she’s pretty?’ about someone else. We’re standing right behind a slip top and short skirts.”
“We’re looking for husbands, too,” No. 1 joked.
Tina Brown and Ariana Huffington were getting some face time with Mr. Heinz, and more women were lining up, like Sarah Weinstein. “I’m Bob Weinstein’s daughter,” she said.
Mr. Heinz was asked if he felt like a lot of women were after him.
“I have no idea. Uhh, anyone who knows me knows I’m pretty old-fashioned in that area.”
How would he describe his crowd?
“Lots of good questions. Inquisitive, attractive and, for my purposes, since I was doing Q&A, they hadn’t drunk enough.”
“I think Chris Heinz is very sexy,” said fetching hostess Stacey Bendet, a designer and the creator of Democracy in Fashion. She was “absolute thrilled” so many members of her young social set had made it despite the pouring rain. “I would think most of them are migrating to the Soho House after this,” she said, before dragging Mr. Heinz away from The Transom.
Bartenders were settling up tabs and security guys were asking people to leave.
A woman sat on the pot of a fake palm tree, looking glum. “I think this is more of a social gathering, I hate to say,” said Eva Levin, a 34-year old business development consultant from Sweden. “I think you can null and void it, for history purposes. Well, I don’t think any major issues were really brought up. Then again, I was late. What did I get out of it? Can I be blunt? Not much. But look, gets me out of the house, right?”
Around the corner at Vento, another female writer summed up the event.
“I think it was very little about politics,” she said. “It was like a frat mixer masquerading as a political event. Everyone was trying to sleep with Chris Heinz. Because he’s extremely rich and his father might be President and all the women there were trying to get closer to Chris, try to talk to him, try to maybe go out with him, maybe be with him-to get an invitation to the Inaugural Ball.”
So he’s sexed up the campaign?
Protest Goes to Pot
“Fine times, indeed,” noted Harper’s editor Louis Lapham of the crowd that had assembled outside of the downtown hangout Pioneer Bar, where High Times magazine was throwing a party for activists planning to protest the upcoming Republican National Convention. His dark horn-rimmed glasses made him at least look the part in the crowd of hippies, hipsters and the just plain curious who had come to fight for the right of everyone other than the Right to party in New York City. “It’s good news for America that everyone has their heart in the right place,” he told The Transom.
Just then, an attractive young woman wearing little more than a bra and panties emblazoned with the slogan “This cherry is for Kerry” strolled by, almost stumbling over the American flag fashioned loosely around her waist.
Protest panties aside, the party seemed a bit more DARE than Half Baked, even with its ties to the publication of choice for the pothead set. By The Transom’s calculations, only three brave souls were willing to brave the state’s draconian Rockefeller laws by lighting up on the sidewalk.
Oddly, that’s just how former High Times executive editor John Buffalo Mailer, son of Pulitzer Prize winner Norman, wanted it. “I couldn’t be happier at how this thing turned out,” he told The Transom. “It’s good to see we are getting away from the pothead stereotype and toward more legitimacy. I mean, every type of person smokes weed, and High Times should speak to everyone.”
As Mr. Lapham bid his farewell, over strolled John Kirby, director of the upcoming docudrama The American Working Class, featuring Kurt Vonnegut, Howard Zinn, Walter Cronkite, Ralph Nader and Louis Lapham, among others. “That man is the Cary Grant to Michael Moore’s Jerry Lewis,” he told the Transom of Mr. Lapham, who is slated to be the centerpiece of the film.
Mr. Lapham lit a non-fragrant cigarette and walked away.
Lesbians prefer to keep their nails closely trimmed.
That’s just one of the lessons routinely dispensed by Tristan Taormino-self-proclaimed sex educator, Village Voice sex columnist, occasional fetish model, porn producer and now newly minted lesbian-sex consultant to the stars.
Before Spike Lee began production on his Sapphic saga She Hate Me, his producers, Preston Holmes and Fernando Sulichin, wanted to “introduce the women [in the film] to the intricacies of lesbian life.” They fingered Ms. Taormino-author of The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women-and asked her to hold a one-week orientation on, well, her own sexual orientation. She called it “Lesbian Boot Camp.”
“[Spike] and I really operate in two totally different worlds,” said Ms. Taormino over the phone from her home in Brooklyn. “His offices are 15 minutes away from my house in Brooklyn, but we might as well be on separate ends of the world.” She was brought in to bridge the, er, gap.
In the movie, a recently sacked pharmaceutical executive, Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie), ends up being paid for his time in the sack after Fatima (Kerry Washington), his ex-fiancée (he found out she was a lesbian right before their wedding), and her new girlfriend, Alex (Dania Ramirez), ask him to impregnate them. The enterprising Fatima begins to pimp out Jack’s services at $10,000 a pop, meting out his genetic code to roughly 16 other paying customers-five per night- before Jack questions not his stamina, but the ethical propriety of it all and calls the scheme off.
Ms. Taormino supplied the 16 actresses with a bulk pack of lesbian memoirs and first-person narratives to prepare them for their roles. “It was important to me to expose them to a number of different voices. I’m one lesbian, and I do not claim to speak for all lesbians,” she said. “I didn’t feel like anyone was skittish or like, ‘Ooh, I’m not very comfortable playing a lesbian!’ I just feel like everyone was completely gung-ho. And there were really intense discussions that came out of that week of the boot camp.”
Some aspects of their research will not be obvious to the discerning hetero eye, however. At one point during their wanton workshop, Ms. Taormino lamented the lesbian stereotype in pornography, in which “shockingly gorgeous” women paw at each other with painfully long nails. “The truth is, very few lesbians have long nails. Our hands are an important tool in our lives-I’ll just say that.” On the first day she was on the set, Ms. Washington and Ms. Ramirez approached Ms. Taormino to show off their new manicures, with short nails. “It was just so cute. And it was just very sweet to me, because it may fly by most audiences, but real lesbians are going to look at their hands-I swear!-and they’re going to have short nails.”
Those newly lacquered nails were put to the test in one especially steamy scene between Fatima and Alex after they had gotten into a fight. Ms. Taormino, whose services were retained by Mr. Lee throughout the shoot, had to block the scene and make sure it looked realistic. “Yeah, we went over how they might have this spontaneous, what is essentially makeup, sex. But we also went over what was at stake in the emotional intensity. For me, when I see that scene-which is one of my favorite scenes-I believe that they’re a couple. And I believe that there is a lot at stake in their relationship.”
After shooting was over, Ms. Taormino was invited to accompany Mr. Lee on a eight-city tour to preview the film to queer audiences. To say the least, some of the audiences were skeptical of the film’s portrayal of lesbians, in spite of Ms. Taormino’s work. But she is quick to point out that the film is not supposed to be entirely realistic. “Do I know lesbians who slept with men in order to conceive? Yes. Do I know that it has been done on such a grand scale, with these parties and blah blah blah? No. But I was willing to go there for the sake of seeing all the different things that are brought up.”
In the end, Ms. Taormino found her relationship with Mr. Lee to be mutually edifying-helping them both to, er, do the right thing.
“To try to bridge that gap, and try to understand his world, and for him to try and understand my world-even a little bit-was probably the most rewarding part of the whole process.”