Look, I promise I can explain why I ended up alone at the bar in the St. Regis Hotel at one o'clock on Tuesday morning My computer had experienced that night the kind of contagious meltdown that incites a parallel electrical fire to the brain and, after bidding the comatose plastic carcass adieu at the 24-hour Apple store on Fifth Avenue, a drink was in order. A big one.
The last time I'd been at the St. Regis, two blocks away, was the day I'd bought that laptop. It seemed only fitting to grieve it with a colossal Manhattan. So I did. Joan Didion's After Henry and my crispy bowl of wasabi peanuts were plenty company, but the older man nursing a glass of Bordeaux to my right started talking, and the only polite thing to do was put the book down and listen.
Kenny seemed like he'd been waiting all evening for somebody at whom to speak. For the first half of my cocktail, he'd manhandled three ultra-tan Teutonic blonds who dressed their English with cute krautie accents. "Ach, Kenny," they giggled. "You ah so silly! Ach, du lieber mann." Their cleavage was pneumatic. They wore shoes so spikily unstable that when they finally strutted away, gold-chained handbags slung over shoulders, pinning down their blow-dried platinum hair, they walked like foals, knock-kneed and tentative.
He took a few sips of wine, staring glumly at the Maxwell Parrish painting of Old King Cole that makes the bar so famous. He sighed. He sagged. I kept reading. The silence was painful. At this point, we were nearly the only ones left in the bar. We could only blame the vagaries of space and fate that had placed us on neighboring barstools.
"Crazy German girls, huh?" Kenny'd been up to Calgary and back since the morning. He owns a luxury mall up there, and others, elsewhere. Canada, apparently, has more oil than anywhere else, and Calgary, apparently, is the center of the money the oil mints. This was news to me, but the facts check out. A Canadian journalist describes Kenny's mall as a "bank of po-mo, stucco storefronts, jutting up from the blacktopped prairie, bathed in halogen backlight." He describes Kenny as "Saskatchewan-born, California-based." It was easy to find him online. I googled "Ken, mall, Calgary, luxury." 122,000 results popped up. 122,001 now.
Kenny has about six homes, five degrees, and has taught at Harvard and Yale. Or so he says. He was recently on a private plane with Oscar de la Renta and "the Dolce & Gabbana people." Or so he says. He refers to Bill Clinton as "Bill," as in, "When Bill and I last did business," and to Al Gore as "an idiot," insisting that George W. has an IQ one point higher than Al Gore. I look this up later. Al Gore's IQ shakes out at 133. No data is available on George W.'s IQ. But maybe Kenny knows something I don't. He implies as much. "Name-dropper," I taunt him. A defensive volley erupts.
We are getting increasingly drunk, and increasingly candid. At one point I actually ask if he likes being rich. "Sure," he says. "It's pretty nice. But there's a lot of responsibility. You're in charge of a lot, and a lot of people besides. There are a lot of expectations." He sags ever so slightly more. Is the suit what makes him sag, or has the suit just evolved to sag along? He coughs, an eruption of phlegm. "There's a lot of horseshit. A lot. Of horseshit."
The bar closes, and we get up to leave. "I'm staying at the Ritz," he says. "You're welcome to come. It's nice up there. No expectations."