January 30th, 2005

A Visit to the Salon of Jean Pieffe

My dear hostess looked me over carefully the other day and said that she liked my appearance much better the last time we met, and that was before I went into exile in Italy to become a scruffy wild man. I should, she said, get rid of the beard and the moustache. I replied that I was reluctant to do that, inasmuch as it all was symbolic of the great change I intended to make in my life, my behavior. "Well at a minimum lose that growth on the side of your face," she said. "Better yet, go to a good barber and have him work you over properly. You must look civilized at our dinner party Monday.."

Yes, indeed. Among the guests tonight will be Lance Morrow, of Time Magazine, who also is professor of Journalism at Boston University. Betsy Von Furstenberg, the actress. And the guest of honor, Rick Moody, author of "The Ice Storm," and most recently, "The Black Veil."

So early this afternoon I walked Lexington Avenue until I encountered the salon of Jean Pieffe. I said I needed to end up looking much less scruffy. The receptionist smiled. "Yes, you've come to exactly the right place."

My barber-or I should say hairdresser-was Bella. Which of course as everyone knows is Italian for beautiful. Taking our picture was a girl by the name of Hanit. I asked her if she were from Lebanon.
"No, Israel," she said.
"I'm so sorry," I said.
Hanit laughed.
"No, really," I said. "That was about the most insulting thing you've probably heard all day."
Again she laughed. "Don't worry, I've heard worse."

What's Happening to the City?

The Citigroup Center, on Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street. The sign in the courtyard says the Atrium is open. Inside is a uniformed security guard. I ask him where I might find the Atrium. Grim-faced and suspicious, he looks me up and down and points in the direction of another uniformed security guard manning a machine with a conveyor belt on it, like the carry-on-luggage x-ray things at airports.

I approach. The guard says, "Put your bag here." I have no bag, just my Nikon D-70. It has a wide strap, so I presume that's what makes him think I'm carrying a bag. I show him the camera. He waves me through.

Near the Atrium are a few food shops. I go into one that appears to be French and I inspect the sweets in the glass case. The carrot cake looks pretty good. I order a slice, plus a cup of green tea. I take my order to one of the tables in the Atrium. I put my camera beside my tray, and sit down.

I take a forkful of the carrot cake. It's moist, delicate, sweet. The cream cheese icing is silky smooth, delicious. The tea has a subtle jasmine overtone, and an exotic fragrance. Excellent. I look up at the five or six levels leading up to a large skylight.

A tall man in a dark suit appears at my table. He leans over and mumbles something that ends with "…photography is not permitted in the Atrium."
"But I'm not taking pictures here. As you can clearly see I'm eating carrot cake."
"I said I'm ADVISING you that no photography is permitted in the Atrium."

The man's aggressive rudeness annoys the hell out of me, but I'm in no mood to get into an argument.

"Fine," I say. And he departs.

I finish my cake and tea and go outside. Just before I reach the staircase leading up to the sidewalk adjoining Lexington Avenue, a man touches my arm. I turn toward him. "Have you been taking photographs in the building?" he asks.

Now I'm totally annoyed. I give him a hard stare. "No I have not been taking photographs in the building," I say. "What in hell makes you think I'd want to, anyway?"

The security goon seems taken aback by my hostile response. "It's company policy,"he says.

"Like I really care about your stupid company policy."I turn away, go up the stairs.

"You should file a complaint." The voice is that of a very nice looking young woman beside me, in a cute knit cap and a wool overcoat and a purple scarf wrapped around her neck.

"Maybe you're right," I reply.

The girl says she was astonished when she saw the man touch me, which seemed to her extremely inappropriate. " And this sort of thing is happening more and more these days, and it's scary," she says.. " What is happening to to the city? What's next?"

I reply she's absolutely right.

"I don't mean to be intrusive," she continues. "But if I were you I'd make a formal complaint. Because if people don't stand up to this nonsense, it'll just get worse."

We talked for a while longer, then she said goodbye, and walked up the Avenue.