Yesterday in New York City, before I had to go to the airport for my flight home to D.C., I had lunch with my friend Anita at Fred’s, the restaurant inside Barneys on the Upper West Side. I’ve been to the Fred’s in Chicago several times and hard as it is to admit, New York Fred’s is better. And by “better” I mean the people-watching is better. The black-clad waiters weaved through the place like a pack of minks, slipping in and around everything that was moving, which was everything inside the restaurant: people, trays, wine bottles, large amounts of money, etc. There were sets of friends having wine and gourmet snacks, small and large families eating lunch. There can be no doubt: Fred’s is a restaurant for the well-heeled (or spies like me) and there’s a lot to observe. The accessories alone!
It was a good place to have lunch, what with my extremely good news yesterday. I wore my fur coat. Anita looked smart, as usual. She’s been a New Yorker for many decades and she is of that city in all sorts of ways: artistic, shrewd, streetwise, and honestly slightly weary (in a charming way, of course.) We were seated and I ordered a glass of pinot noir and a hamburger; it’s a zeroed-out choice, as the cholesterol in the meat is zapped by the red wine’s flavonoids or whatever they are for lord’s sake.
Somehow the conversation turned to age. At thirty-five, I look at age quite differently than when I was twenty-five, obviously. Anita, being sixty or so, looks at it in her way, and what she had to say about her age was fascinating and depressing, though it ends well. Sort of.
“I’ve come through the period of time when I was invisible,” Anita said, cutting a piece of her omelette. “It’s strange, because as a woman, you’re invisible for a long time and then suddenly you’re an old lady.”
“Woah,” I said, and the rest of my life flashed before my eyes. There may have been a purple hat involved.
“See, when you’re in your fifties, more or less, you become invisible in society. It was amazing how no men would hold the door for me for a long time. Women would push past me. I was a persona non grata, really. Doors would literally close in my face. But then I turned sixty and now everything is much better. Because people see me as an old lady and the courtesy is back. Doors are held for me every time. People smile. It’s great.”
A forkful of salad was frozen halfway to my open mouth. In my peripheral vision, I saw a girl of seven or so in a black velvet holiday dress with a big red bow in her hair. She had the most beautiful, milk-and rose-colored skin of any child I had ever seen. The best soap, the best lotion, the best bath in the world is money.
“Oh, Anita. That’s…fascinating,” I said. “I’m glad the invisible period is over. How long did it last?”
“About nine years.”
When I turned thirty-three, I played around with saying I was thirty-two. I just liked thirty-two better. But I cut it out pretty quickly. It’s lying, for one thing, which is not okay. And for another thing, I earned thirty-three. The year before that was hard and great and hard and great and why on earth would I erase it.
It ought not to be invisible.