On the third anniversary of the beginning of the current Iraq war—or, as it was known in Manhattan, Monday night—a number of musicians held a “Bring ’Em Home Now” benefit concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
Moby was sound-checking. “Anybody that comes that’s with the artist—don’t make them wait,” said a coordinator named Josh, in a bright orange Blondie T-shirt, to a minion. The minion ran to the side door and returned with two women, a brunette and a redhead, on her heels.
“Hi, you’re with Rufus? His manager was supposed to get the tickets. I don’t have any all-access passes right now, so I’ll have to peel some off somebody,” Josh said.
“There is a list, right?” whined Redhead.
“Yeah, we’ve got the list.”
Josh huddled with his team: Where was the V.I.P. room? Where? Up on the balcony?
How did these women know Mr. Wainwright?
“We’re his publicists.”
“Uhhh, no,” the redhead scoffed. The two turned to each other and snickered. “Did you see his sound check?”
No. But there were some dancers up there.
The redhead crinkled her nose. “Dancers. Really? For who? That’s weird.”
Cindy Sheehan arrived just in time for the press conference. Does the anti-war mom find that getting arrested gets easier each time?
“Weeeeell, no,” she said. “It gets harder every time. Every time, they hurt me a little bit more. I had to spend the night in jail this last time. That wasn’t fun. It was horrible, but I don’t regret it because it was ‘Wow, what an experience!’” Her voice was surprisingly soothing without microphones. She wore no makeup, but her strawberry bob looked freshly colored.
Who had she come with?
“Myself. I’m a loser.”
Then Ms. Sheehan and some musicians signed a super-sized version of a “Bring ’Em Home” postage stamp. She went first, then Mr. Wainwright, Michael Stipe, Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner, and Steve Earle. “Who wants red?” asked Peaches, who signed her name while waving a pink “wand.”
Ms. Sheehan hit the V.I.P. room—it was on the balcony, where Long Island ice teas cost $10.
Margaret Cho watched Ms. Sheehan greet people in the warm, motherly way that she has. “I think she’s done an amazing job,” Ms. Cho said. “We’ve actually not met face to face, but we’ve talked a lot online, and you know, she’s an amazing woman, and she’s done so much to mobilize this country—and what a terrible sacrifice she’s already had to make. But what a great thing has come of it. And in so many ways, she’s like the reason the war has turned around.”
By the end of the evening’s performances—after Susan Sarandon introduced Ms. Sheehan to the crowd, and after Mr. Stipe closed the show—many of the young folks appeared to be quite drunk. “Let’s go to Schiller’s!” said one. Outside, a few especially young-looking people seemed immune from the below-freezing wind that whipped up their bare legs and into their miniskirts as they struggled into a black Xterra.
One couple was more sensibly dressed, in matching “Dick!” and “Bush!” T-shirts. How had their evening been? “Don’t ask me, I’m drunk. Ask him,” said Morgan Masterman. She nudged her hubby, Bob Graybill. “Chuck D. bumped into me at the bar,” she said.
The couple had wed in October; they had both graduated from Penn State with political-science degrees. “I work in a factory, so I’m looking for a job,” said Mr. Graybill.
“We were supposed to go into the Peace Corps, but that didn’t work out,” said Ms. Masterman. “They wanted us to wait for six months, so we decided to get jobs instead. But we’re accepted for four years, so we might go eventually.”
“Yeah, finding jobs sucks,” said Mr. Graybill.
Last Wednesday evening, Erica Jong, the proto-feminist and author, was folded up on Georgette Mosbacher’s couch. She was receiving well-wishers like a queen with a mild case of A.D.D.
“Tomorrow I’m going to be in Boston, and on Monday I’m doing the Today show, and then I’m going to Washington and Philadelphia and God knows what,” Ms. Jong said. She clearly had a taut publicity schedule for her new book, Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life. “Then a week in California. I don’t even think about it—Hi, Linda! How’re youuuu? How’re you? Oh, stop it, stop it. Hey, Harold!”
Ms. Jong was wearing black lace pants and sparkly earrings, and her shoes—they looked like black Ferragamo pumps—were on the floor in front of her. A reed-thin woman in a red skirt suit and piles of jewelry came over.
“I just want to tell you—that was a fantastic speech! I can’t wait to read the book, and I want to learn everything you have to impart!” the woman said. “I never thought of it back then. It’s hard to be as successful as you were, when you were so young, and to suddenly come back. It’s incredibly difficult.”
“It’s hard to survive it,” Ms. Jong said.
Next, the comely literary agent Nina Collins approached and sidled up to Ms. Jong on the couch.
“You were my agent, a million years ago,” said Ms. Jong.
“I was a scout,” Ms. Collins said. “Now I’m an agent.”
“Oh, right,” said Ms. Jong. She turned toward another departing fan. “Bye, sweetie! It’s lovely to see you.”
“Do you remember, we had drinks in L.A., at the Beverly Hills whatever?” Ms. Collins said.
“I know,” said Ms. Jong.
“Anyway, I can’t wait to read your new book,” Ms. Collins said. “I’ve always really loved your work, since I was a teenager.”
“Thank you!” said Ms. Jong.
The two did an awkward dance and then shared a smack on the lips.
Ms. Jong reiterated the speech she’d made earlier. “I talked about what it’s like to have a first novel”—Fear of Flying—“that sells 18 million copies around the world. And how hard it is to go on after that,” she said. “Because, you know, I was very young. Half the people wanted my underwear to sniff—men who wrote to me—and the other people wanted to hold me responsible for all the terrible things that were happening to women in the world. That they were leaving their husbands. But it was the times—Hello, Karen, how are you? You look beautiful!”
Had Ms. Jong noticed the eight million articles about “choice feminism” that had recently surfaced in every press outlet from Good Morning America to the Yale Alumni Magazine, each of them urging women to just give up on ever being able to both procreate and have a career?
“I’ve been reading them,” Ms. Jong said. She sighed. “I really think we’re gonna have to lose choice. I think we’re going to have to lose Roe to get it back.”
For many of the women at the party—of a certain age and an upper tax bracket—the choice had seemed to involve copious amounts of plastic surgery. Ms. Jong looked refreshingly normal, despite her own well-publicized dabblings with the knife, in the ocean of Botoxed foreheads and poking cheekbones and big white teeth.
“I think there’s a great blitheness about choice,” Ms. Jong continued. “I’m not saying the younger generation doesn’t appreciate it—but the wingnuts are so strong and so well organized, whereas the left is always attacking each other. We’re up against Mormons and Christian fundamentalists, the Christian Right—they’re not right, and they’re not Christians! If Jesus came back to earth and were here, he would be appalled by the people who call themselves Christians. They’re so unkind, they’re so mean, they’re so bigoted.”
Ms. Jong’s husband, Ken Burrows, came over and handed her the shoes. She slipped them onto her feet. Was it harder to be a successful woman writer than a male one?
“Are you kidding?” Ms. Jong said. “Harder? We never get the respect we deserve, we never get paid as much as men—we’re essentially treated like chattel.”
And did Ms. Jong count the number of women’s bylines among the sea of men’s names in prominent magazines?
“If I went on counting them,” Ms. Jong said, “I’d be so depressed I’d throw myself out the window.”
The Arcane Model
Last week, The Transom stood in line at the all-night post office on Eighth Avenue, thumbing through a glossy magazine. A pointed finger came from behind and a gravelly voice said, “That’s me.”
The magazine was open to an ad for Diesel, the clothing company. In the ad, a young, khaki-clad man yanked his brightly outfitted damsel from a leprous backdrop of camouflage print.
“This is the first time I’ve seen someone looking at that picture in public—I mean, someone that I don’t know,” said Jorge (pronounced “George”) Valdes, 26. He stands 6-foot-1 and has tousled brown hair, hazel eyes and a quick smile.
What does a model wear to the post office? “The pants that I’m wearing are Armani jeans. My shoes are Prada combat boots. And my boxers are Perry Ellis boxers. What I’m wearing under the jacket is a cashmere scarf, cashmere sweater and a normal black T-shirt. I try to keep it simple—all solid colors.” Cast over the entire ensemble was a red bomber jacket. “I think it’s European,” he said. “I bought it in a European store down in Soho—not really too sure of the name of that. As far as brand names, I’m not a junkie for brand names.”
He was there, he said, to get a money order to pay his rent.
Mr. Valdes is of Cuban and Dominican heritage and was raised in Miami. He came to New York two years ago. “I have an apartment in Greenpoint, but I live with my girlfriend over in Hell’s Kitchen. She used to be a model, and she was Miss France at one point. She was 16 at the time; now she’s 32.”
In 2004, following a thwarted attempt at finding work in Milan, Mr. Valdes said he “got fed up” with modeling and threw in the towel. A meandering path through odd jobs in different cities eventually led him back to New York. Last fall his modeling agency, DNA, sent him on a cattle call of male mannequins vying for the chance to “represent Diesel clothing.” The casting was on a Monday or a Tuesday, Mr. Valdes recalled. By that Friday, it looked like he was being given the nod.
“This was around Octoberish, like Oct. 18 or 17—I’m not too sure what the exact date was,” he said. “That weekend, my agent ended up calling me, and he ended up giving me the good news that I was going to be flying out Monday morning, out to Los Angeles, where we did the shoot.”
Now the ad has hit magazine pages, and it’s up to Mr. Valdes, or rather his likeness, to show his worth in clothing sales.
Dan Barton is the communications director of Diesel USA. He wrote in an e-mail that “the campaign is running from February to June. It is being used predominantly in female fashion books, such as Elle, Teen Vogue and Glamour.”
“I’m trying to creep up into Manhattan,” said Mr. Valdes. “This is la crème de la crème—that’s what they say. It’s the city that never sleeps. Hence, we’re at the post office at what time? At 9:25 on a Thursday night.”