March 3: Dear Diary, c’est moi: Phyllis Stine. Guess what! Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is going to make me his Commissioner of New York City Politesse. Just asked me last weekend. I’m like sitting here in my divorce purgatory suite at the Carlyle Hotel with nothing to do on a rainy afternoon except organize my Guccis and Manolos-plus I’m fasting again-when the telephone rings and it’s some woman named Christine I-think-she-said Leguizamo and, before I can ask if she can get me tickets to her brother’s show, she goes, “I have Mayor Giuliani telephoning for Phyllis Stine.” And I go, “Sure, sure, yes, yes,” wondering which one of my kooky hairdresser friends is in a K-hole now.
I’m waiting. I smooth the folds in the lap of a little nothing stretch-rayon Ann Demeulemeester whatever, and then I recognize the voice from Saturday Night Live. It really is the Mayor.
“Phyllis Stine,” he goes, “do you remember Plato …”
Stopped him right there. He’s good. I mean, what intelligence network does he have? “I only went once. Just to say I’d been!”
Mayor Giuliani explained he meant Plato the philosopher. Not the retreat. “Plato developed the notion of the ideal. You never reached it. But in striving to get there, you kept making improvements in society,” the Mayor said. “The ideal republic, the state of honesty, the ideal state of integrity, the ideal state of cleanliness or safety.”
I responded by congratulating Plato for being the inspiration behind cosmetic surgery.
The Mayor outlined his plans for a polite New York. Fix the taxi drivers. Neuter the honkers and car alarms. Teach children manners in school. And so on and so forth. Apparently, I was recommended for the Commissioner of Politesse job by all my friends at the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The Mayor wanted to make an official announcement at a conference at City Hall on April 1, the height of New York’s fashion week.
“Well, Phyllis Stine? What do you say?”
Images of great New York ladies passed before my eyes: Brooke Astor. Mary Lasker. Marietta Tree. Stevie Nicks. Alice Tully Hall. A dam opened inside me. My mind flooded with the good I could I do for New York. To make it a better place. Gentler. Kinder. I saw myself cutting the ribbon at the inauguration of a system of revamped city sidewalks in which all the grates were closed and made safe for women in high heels, and I said: “I am here to serve, Your Honor. To make the city sidewalks Arcadia for five-inch heels.”
And to think Mr. Stine used to say the only employment I’d ever get was as a boldfaced name in Consumer Reports.
March 4: Obviously, preparing for this sea change in the working order of my life has prohibited me from attending the fall collections in Milan and Paris. Asked the Carlyle concierge for two copies of Women’s Wear Daily daily in case I miss something. The Gucci shoe of the season, so you know, is round-toed with a thin platform, preferably in colored croc, with a high, thickish heel, but not thick enough that we needn’t mandate the end of open sidewalk grates.
March 4: Midnight. Can’t sleep. Such a lot to think about.
For instance, what am I going to wear to work? Remembered my mother used to say if you have to work, take the job that requires new clothes. Mother knew best.
March 6: Need a few etiquette books just in case there is something I don’t know. Called Books & Company. Did you know it closed? Thinking about books, I remembered the time I met Mark Hampton, the interior designer, at a luncheon in Southampton. He asked me if I liked to read, did I have time? Told him I read Jacqueline Susann in French, which seemed to impress him. He didn’t know what to say, but eventually recommended a few of his favorites. Among them was Mrs. Astor’s autobiography Footprints and a biography of Elsie de Wolfe, a decorator of great note. The Martha Stewart of the Queen Mary set. I have these spontaneous ginkgo biloba moments-prompted by the memory herb, you see. I remember Mrs. Astor wrote that when she took her first job, in 1946, she, too, wondered what to wear. A lady in those days, Mrs. Astor said, “wore a hat all day … and could have her pet dog tied under her desk.”
Don’t know about the dog, but j’adore the idea of an all-day hat. Just like that London girl, Isabella Blow, the friend of Alexander McQueen. She wore a big pink crab on her head to the Christian Dior couture show in Paris in January. Remember? Well, make my hat a big apple!
As for Ms. de Wolfe, she believed beauty could soothe the city beasts. “The population of prisons and lunatic asylums will go down the moment people have a city they can love and homes that will welcome them,” she said, according to a biographer. “I have never heard of anyone who had beauty around him murdering anybody or making anybody else unhappy … If I were the Empress of America, I’d order all the houses between First and Second avenues taken down, and on the other side of the city, all between Eighth and Ninth-and those would be the great avenues, planted like the Tuileries. And the Bronx I’d make into the Bois de Boulogne. It takes large measures like that,” Elsie said. “Oh, the dreams of the old days-the big sweep of the hand over little men’s mean plans! And, oh Lord, what one could do to Jersey!”
March 7. Have instructed my attorney William Ginsburg (yes, him) to look into stopping the publication of Little, Brown and Company’s Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons, a contemporary social history of Long Island’s East End, by Steven Gaines. All things considered, I think the author could spell my name right. I have a career to protect, after all.
March 8: My colorist thinks I should follow the Mayor’s announcement of my new post as Commissioner of New York City Politesse with a press conference, at which I outline my initial manifesto for implementing the Mayor’s desires for civility and courtesy. Have asked publicist Peggy Siegal to handle this for me. Ms. Siegal suggested we dine next week at Moomba. I do not think I can live through another trendy restaurant, but never mind. I’ll think of it as research. I’ll survive.
Meanwhile, here are my first two ideas for the Mayor:
(1) Institute a series of manners training programs, to be governed by members of the board of trustees at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the wait staff at Serendipity. The programs will include “Adopt a Taxi Driver,” “Adopt a Straphanger,” “Hug a Thug,” and the “Only in New York Kids” after-school teas. Trademarks pending.
(2) Free medical treatment for any New Yorker who thinks there is ever a good reason to spit.