Cynical minds might call Tina Brown’s recent party for the Tea & Sympathy cookbook another plank in her never-ending “buzz” campaign, but for one English waitress turned aspiring author, it was the night of a lifetime.
Anita Naughton staggered under pots of Typhoo at the Greenwich Avenue restaurant for over a decade and hopes the narrative she wrote for Tea & Sympathy will be her big break. She was standing in the ground floor of Ms. Brown’s East 57th triplex: Cinderella at the ball, something out of a Katherine Mansfield story, an antique black shawl settled demurely on her bare shoulders. A glass of white wine glowed before her like Aladdin’s lamp. Harry Evans had brought it over. “He’s terribly sweet, isn’t he?” said Ms. Naughton, who is as winsome as it is possible to be at age 40.
Ms. Naughton crept outside to the garden for some air and a cigarette. She confided that because of the rush to get to the party on time, she was wearing a pair of her husband’s underwear. She pulled up the hem of her strapless dress-from which the dry cleaner had sucked an appliquéd flower-to show off the buttoned-up ankle boots she’d bought for the occasion. “First time I spent $200 on a fucking pair of boots,” she said.
Inside, the tall, cyborg-like socialite-writer Plum Sykes was lolling on a pink divan wearing jeans and a bored expression. One had the urge to run in and wrench away the $625,000 advance she got from Talk/Miramax Books and stuff it in the former waitress’ pockets as a kind of party favor. “Is she a good writer, Plum Sykes?” asked Ms. Naughton. “Oh my God in heaven,” she said when the aforementioned figure was cited. “Well, that’s what it’s about these days. You have to be a product really, now-a marketable, good-looking product.”
Ms. Naughton, who still does a Wednesday shift at Tea & Sympathy to help pay the bills, received $25,000 from Putnam to write the cookbook (Tea & Sympathy’s flamboyant owner, Nicola Perry, provided the recipes and will get the royalties). She married Noel, a Brazilian chef she met at the restaurant, at City Hall (they had a second ceremony after finding out that he was still technically married to a woman back in Brazil). They live in a $940 two-room studio on Sullivan Street with their two tawny, cherubic, bilingual children: Dominique, 3, and Marlon, 11 months.
The dream is for her to make enough money writing that he can quit and mind the kids. She writes whenever she can, at the little wooden table in her cramped kitchen. Sometimes she snatches an hour or two and goes to the Writers Room, a subscription sanctuary on Astor Place. “It’s a heavenly place,” she said.
Before Tea & Sympathy, Ms. Naughton had a job at the Royalton. “That was such a horrifying place to work,” she said. “Everyone was so nasty and horrible. I remember Philippe Starck coming in, sort of an uptight little French man. I said to him, ‘It’s funny-you know, the toilets are very nice, but you should’ve written a manual to go with them.’ Because every minute you were asked by somebody, ‘How do I use the toilets?’ And he goes, ‘I didn’t design them for imbeciles’-and then he pissed off!” She writes of being fired for wearing a tablecloth and pretending to be a ghost, to amuse a Bangladeshi busboy who would sneak her cappuccinos.
Ms. Naughton wrote several episodes of a sitcom based on life at Tea & Sympathy, but so far nothing has come of it. “A customer was saying for ages, ‘Oh, I’ve got great contacts,'” she said. “And I gave a copy to her and was waiting for ages for this thing to happen, and it didn’t happen. This person was kind of basically saying, ‘Oh, Richard Branson just read it,’ and I was like, ‘Where are some of these people?’, and it was like they were never there. It was all a load of crap. Nobody had seen anything. It was just one of those bogus things.”
As Ms. Brown’s party wound down, Ms. Naughton expressed regret that Tea & Sympathy regular Hayley Mills, the actress, hadn’t been able to make it. (Ms. Mills starred in The Family Way , which was written by Ms. Naughton’s paternal grandfather, Bill Naughton a former lorry driver.) The final stop of the evening would be Fiddlesticks, a West Village pub.
The next day on the phone, she was hoarse and hopeful. Apparently, a woman at Tina Brown’s party-a playwright who writes pilots for HBO-was sending the cookbook around to various people, trying to get actors “attached.”
“I really enjoyed myself,” Ms. Naughton said. “Though you have to take everything with a large pinch of salt, because people bullshit. That’s the truth!”
Running With the Devil
Eric McDonald would rank high on anyone’s list of the least likely people to compete in the New York City Marathon. The 30-year-old Texan is barrel-chested and, at 5-foot-7, complains that his legs “only go so fast.” But that’s just the physical part. Mr. McDonald is also the co-manager of the thoroughly unhealthy Vice Fund, a new mutual fund that invests exclusively in tobacco, alcohol, gambling and defense, and is currently considering an expansion into violent video games.
While preparing for his Nov. 3 26.2-mile trot, Mr. McDonald didn’t totally abstain from some of his prized investments, including cigars (“I smoke a lot less while I’m training,” he said) and beer (“I don’t drink to excess, but I do enjoy it”). As for other vices, the mutual-fund co-manager doesn’t gamble (“I’m so bad at it that my wife won’t let me”), nor does he own any weapons of mass destruction. However, Mr. McDonald said he’d love to “test drive an F-16.”
The day before the marathon, Mr. McDonald sat in a couch at the lobby bar of the Shoreham Hotel (he drank nothing; it was morning) and explained himself. He said the inspiration for the Vice Fund came to him at the beginning of 2002, as he watched the country’s economy tumble. With major stock indices down over 20 per cent from two years ago and companies laying off workers in droves, the Texas A&M graduate believed that vice was a surer bet. The Vice Fund was launched in September with the motto: “When it’s good, it’s great … when it’s bad, it’s better.”
“Regardless of the economy, people continue to drink, they continue to smoke, and they gamble a lot,” said Mr. McDonald, who resembles a balding Jimmy Kimmel. He was wearing a suburban-casual maroon polo shirt, light chinos and a silver cell phone clipped to his belt.
Although the Vice Fund is down 4.8 percent, Mr. McDonald expects it to recover over the holidays-the season of vice. The Vice Fund’s top holding is Budweiser, he said, and Mr. McDonald cannily stocked up prior to football season. As for his defense investments, the Vice Fund president said: “Someone is generally at war with someone, and most of them do it with American-made weapons.”
What did Mr. McDonald’s wife, an actress, think about his job?
“She thinks it’s great,” he said. “She tells her friends, who are generally people in theater and are more liberal, and they say this makes sense.
“The obvious question we get is, ‘Do you invest in porn?'” Mr. McDonald said. “No one admits to having it or buying it, but everyone wants to invest in it.” Alas, the Vice Fund doesn’t own porn stock, because most porn companies are privately owned or, like Playboy , haven’t performed well.
Mr. McDonald decided to run the marathon after a co-worker did last year. “I’m only going to run one,” he said. That night, he planned to eat a big pasta dinner and take his wife to see The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? “Strange,” Mr. McDonald said of the play’s man-woman-goat love triangle. “You think the Vice Fund is strange?”
Mr. McDonald predicted he’d finish under five hours. On this occasion, though, the speculator was wrong. Reached Sunday night, Mr. McDonald was heading to Carmine’s for dinner and said he’d taken six hours to cross the finish line in Central Park. “I’m in a good amount of pain,” he said. “I’m going to have a beer-but toward the end of dinner. A cigar probably won’t hurt. I feel like crap.”