Meg Chrisner thought it all looked just perfect, even though the party had been put together on the cheap. And true, the “models” were just friends, and friends of friends. And the liquor had been bought for all of $432—in Jersey, no less!
The evening sounded just like a fantasy of a reality show. Nike Communications had wanted to throw a party at Esprit Flatiron—a V.I.P. Shopping Night, to be exact—and they’d handed the keys to six young P.R. gunslingers from the internship program. With Ms. Chrisner as their chief, the kiddies would be in charge of everything: drinks, music, balloons and models.
And if the invitations did their job, every intern in New York City would be there to enjoy the spectacle. And if not …. But Ms. Chrisner didn’t like to think like that. She wouldn’t.
J-Kwon boomed out of the speakers. It was still a bit early, and already a mess of hard-bodied, well-dressed pre-profs were sipping vodka and Red Bulls and browsing in the clothing racks. Errrbody in the club gettin’ tipsy! was the word.
But others knew it wasn’t much of a club at all. Though the store had been transformed into a sexy meeting ground for Manhattan’s not-yet-elite, the stage had also inadvertently been set for a supremely awkward evening of self-conscious networking and doomed, fresh-faced flirtations. But these were the faces of the future—they just knew it! They were all really doing their best to mingle—and to chase down the elusive waiters, too. And they were all looking forward to the day when they’d arrive on the Hamptons cocktail circuit, still wiping fleshy chunks of their current superiors from their gleaming jaws.
The fluorescent lights and preppy pastels cast an oppressive glare, and the blinding white walls of the store had the sterile sense of a surgery ward. Red and white balloons floated near the ceiling, and a cheap red carpet had been draped across the floor for the models who would be making their runway moves later on.
Ms. Chrisner had felt the stress of being in charge for weeks, and now she heaved a sigh of relief. She smoothed her hands down her slinky black dress. The interns had decided to go noir for the evening, so as to make themselves less conspicuous.
“Our team is called InsightPR, inspired by the ‘I’ for ‘intern’—and through the eyes of interns, we will get them to come to our Esprit,” Ms. Chrisner said. By that proclamation, she proved herself to be a P.R. natural. But when asked if she would really be a publicist proper some day, she suddenly felt it all catch up with her.
“We’ll see,” faltered the 21-year-old. But just as suddenly, she was back on message, all smiles and sunshine. “I love what I’m doing. I feel so great about this event!”
Ms. Chrisner felt the eyes on her. It was Michele Horner, her keeper, a real-life Nike elder who was there to watch over all the underlings. Tonight, the two looked like the ghosts of P.R. present and future, with little Ms. Chrisner in the driver’s seat and Ms. Horner with her foot on the emergency brake. Tonight, the sun was setting in the east.
Laura Randle, a thin British expat, stood apart from the networking American youngsters, the careerist frenzy unfolding around her. She quietly and efficiently browsed the merch. Her green eyes were entirely hidden behind a $330 pair of enormous black Chanel sunglasses.
Ms. Randle couldn’t be asked to pay attention to the models, the D.J. or the little interns. Her precisely cropped brown hair stopped short several inches above a slim, striped black blazer, and a Saks Fifth Avenue bag dangled from her hand. One might have thought she looked every bit the Anna Wintour in training.
“This party is so cheesy,” she complained in a whisper. “It’s bollocks.” Ms. Randle had come to town for summer classes at N.Y.U. She had previously tried her manicured hand at a number of careers: journalism, modeling, photography. Already she was a bit fed up with the Yanks.
“They’re too hyper,” she muttered. “They wear shorts! They have dodgy accents. Everyone just wants to get high and drink. I want to do exciting things—things you can only do in New York.”
Before long, Ms. Randle was on her way to the Nerve.com Writer Soiree, held, frugally enough, at the online sex journal’s offices in Soho.
As soon as she got to the Nerve party, Ms. Randle met a man. She ditched her two escorts and spent the rest of the evening roosting on a couch with him at her side. Apparently talking shit all night with some corporate loser is one of those “exciting things” you can only do in New York.
Sprightly Ricky Van Veen always wants to be the host. The high-rolling CollegeHumor.com mastermind greeted each arrival with a welcoming smile and a pad of pink hearts. Each new guest received a quirky compliment on a heart-shaped note. “You have nice handwriting,” he wrote, grinning kindly and sticking the note to the sleeve of the two young men who had just arrived. It was as if he could sense the visitors’ heartbreak over losing Ms. Randle. He’d swooped in just when things were at their bleakest.
Such intuition could only belong to a child, and as Mr. Van Veen dodged through the throngs of Ivy League freelancers and Columbia grad students—most of whom make less in a year than he does in a month—it was clear that “opposite day” at Esprit was simply the norm in the Nuevo Silicon Alley land of Spring Street.
“It’s a lower-Broadway Internet scene,” Mr. Van Veen said as he scribbled out yet another compliment. “It’s like a big nerd community.”
The New York Times contingent was made up of the oldest of the very young. Heartthrob journos Nick Confessore and Warren St. John talked in one corner of the loft with Gawker Media maestro Nick Denton. They looked as if they were frozen in a Cargo photo-shoot tableau. If you could have stepped into the crisp scene, you would have heard the journos talking shop.
Mr. Denton, always on the get, made an unsolicited and ambiguously serious job offer to one of the reporters. He was declined. Surely the two reporters thought of their union.
Malcolm Gladwell sipped from his Budweiser. He stood in a corner, in the shadow of Nerve.com impresario Rufus Griscom. “I know Alisa,” Mr. Gladwell said, pointing to Mr. Griscom’s blond wife. He was reticent that evening.
Still, every guest in the room was thrilled to be in the presence of Mr. Gladwell. Was it because, at 41, and with so much success, he was the closest thing to an authority figure? Even the Cinderella generation, it seems, needs someone to look up to. Sure, it’s exciting to be a power punk running the show, but Mr. Gladwell’s stream of New Yorker articles carries an unnatural gravitas. Perhaps that’s what keeps him so quiet: What would become of Mr. Gladwell’s reputation if he suddenly succumbed to, say, the hearty, childish pleasures of greeting visitors with affectionate, knowing notes scribbled on little pink hearts?
Dear Ms. Randle, meanwhile, expended much energy laughing at her couch boy’s jokes. Those unfortunate suitors who were jilted by her spent the rest of the evening in the smoking room; as the night ground on, they groused about her. Soon everyone was leaving.
Finally, the British beauty left with the corporate cog.
And we, The Transom’s interns, walked home to our Manhattan summer sublets, kicking ourselves all the while for not coming up with all that College Humor swag first. Still, we have learned that it’s a kid’s world, folks, and even if we do lose a girl like Ms. Randle to some schmo who works in an office, we can rest easy knowing that he—and you as well, dear reader—will probably die before we do.
—Leon Neyfakh and Michael Grynbaum
Last Days, End Times
It’s easy to get lost in Last Days, Gus Van Sant’s cinematic meditation on the final moments of Kurt Cobain’s life. Rock-star mumbler Michael Pitt, as the Cobain-inspired Blake, murmurs his way through the searingly beautiful landscape that surrounds his crumbling mansion.
Blake stumbles around in a tight black dress and Doc Martens. Later we see him pass out, while a Boyz II Men video plays on the television. One screening attendee said afterward: “It’s a hipster movie—it’s beautifully shot, and not much happens.” Likewise, last week’s premiere, and its after-party at Pianos, were a similar haze of beauty and boredom.
On the red carpet at Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema, a reporter for a vapid monthly didn’t recognize rock royalty Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Ms. Gordon plays the role of a music executive in the film, and Mr. Moore was the music consultant for the film. “Wait—so there are two people in the band?” There are five. “And they’ve been around for a while?” They’re in the Marc Jacobs ads. “Oh.”
It seemed the stupidity was contagious. (“Everyone here is from L.A.”) One columnist asked Lukas Haas about his biggest fear. It turned out to be spiders. Mr. Pitt, looking ever so grungy in his torn-and-splotched T-shirt, was asked the same question. “Journalists and photographers,” he graciously replied. Vapid Monthly wrote that down.
At Pianos, an Asian-supermodel type in the corner of the room considered the chips and salsa and asked no one in particular, “How does this work?”
While The Transom is well aware that Thursday has been the new Saturday for some time, one woman falling out of her top advised us: “You think this is nuts, come back on a Monday.” But Monday’s after Sunday, and Sunday’s after ….
Peggy’s Möbius Strip
“What can you say about Peggy that hasn’t been said already by Peggy?” asked Bob Balaban. It was publicist Peggy Siegal’s birthday bash—although Ms. Siegal had hijacked her own party to publicize Mr. Balaban’s new animated series. In which Ms. Siegal herself appears. As, no less, a publicist.
Tan and ready, Regis and Joy Philbin joined the party in the Le Trianon Room of the Hôtel Plaza Athénée. “How is this going to work?” asked Ms. Philbin. They were accompanied by the less-squirrelly-in-real-life Gelman. The wolfish, pink-polo-shirted reporter Jacob Bernstein lurked in front of the elevators, ready to pounce.
At one point in the first episode of the show, Hopeless Pictures, Ms. Siegal, playing Peggala, comes up with a film-promotion idea to send her invitees just one shoe. Actual attendees receive the other shoe when they show up to the film.
“I’m using that idea for a real film. Art imitates life,” said Ms. Siegal. (And yes, this real film has “shoe” in the title.)
After the showing: “How do we find our seats?” asked Audrey Gruss. Apparently the socialite had mistaken The Transom for a member of the staff. Ms. Siegal, in a lacy pink dress, spent most of the night in the dark dining room, leaning over and touching the shoulders of her guests: Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets, John and Susan Hess, Claudia Cohen, Joel Siegel, and Michael Lynne from New Line. The Philbins—and that darn Gelman!—dined with Barry Levinson.
Gary Siegal, Ms. Siegal’s brother, bragged about his daughter Mattie’s successes and Oprah’s recent visit to her school in East Hampton. He also voiced some concern that Ms. Siegal was (although we don’t believe it) getting his daughter into nightclubs. Aw, let the kid live a little!
And Annette Siegal, who bears a resemblance to the younger Ms. Siegal, particularly in the vicinity of her perfectly coiffed and streaked hairdo, remained quite quiet throughout the night, in contrast to her son’s loquacity.