Note on excerpt: Jon Paul has been hired by Condé Nast Traveler to add some glam to the magazine’s parties. He has recruited his friend Susan to help.
One of the most buzzed about features of the Condé Nast building was the “employee cafeteria.” It was like nothing I had ever experienced. The space’s gleaming blue titanium walls with handcrafted cantilever glass panels and beech white floors would have made Superman feel right at home. But this Frank Gehry-designed architectural masterpiece—rumored to cost nearly $35 million to erect—was built not for the man of steel but for the super hero editors of Condé Nast. They needed somewhere special to dine in the still seedy area surrounding the new headquarters shorthanded in the press as 4X2. So the unassuming and media shy owner Mr. Newhouse built a design Mecca cum luxury food hall.
The first day the cafeteria opened for business, Susan and I rushed down to check it out.
“We didn’t have a sushi bar in my high school lunch room. Should we try the stir-fry or wood oven pizzas?” I asked.
“Looks like the Vogue girls are going for salad. Typical,” Susan said.
It was the like being back in high school. What should I wear? Where should I sit? Do you think he’s cute? Everyone played out to type—if the hung over GQ boys were the school jocks, then the studious New Yorker nerds were the Honor Society, and the slightly snotty Condé Nast Travelers were the French Club.
“How about we sit here?” I asked.
I motioned to a banquette near the cashless registers— corporate i.d. cards were scanned at checkout like a debit card. It wouldn’t have surprised me if it was a scheme for the company to keep track of employee’s daily caloric intake.
“That’s where Mr. Newhouse sits according to PageSix,” Susan replied.
“Speaking of, we need to get to work on inviting celebrities to the party,” I said.
Susan’s mention of the legendary gossip column reminded me that one of our most important duties was inviting famous faces to attend whatever soiree of the moment the magazine was hosting. Our strategy was scanning the gossip columns for names of possible celebrity attendees—if they were in the paper it usually meant they were making the rounds of parties searching for publicity.
“What about Mary Louise Parker?” I asked.
“Love her. Seems like she’s in between projects. How about Marcia Gay Harden? She’s out and about.”
“Hello? Oscar-winner and fellow Texan? Definitely. Hey, what do you think of Chloe Sevigny?”
“I’d spit on her,” Susan said without hesitation.
“What? What do you mean you’d spit on her?”
I couldn’t figure out what Susan meant, she was always teaching me new hip-hop language. Was this some kind of new rap-inspired code word?
“There’s just something about her that creeps me out. If I saw her on the red carpet, I’d spit on her.”
“Wow, spitting is kind of gross isn’t it?”
“Absolutely, you have to be really committed to it.”
We spent the next hour ignoring stares from fellow diners wanting our coveted booth, and discussing exactly the parameters of who’d you spit on and why. We determined that spitting isn’t really a rational activity—it’s some guttural response to an individual that you just can’t quite name.
“I’d spit on Scarlett Johansson,” I volunteered.
“Really? I think she’s so pretty,” Susan protested.
“I know. But there’s just something about her I find slimy. Like you said, there’s nothing rational about it.”
And so, during that lunch, out of Susan’s dislike for Chloe Sevigny, we created one of our all-time favorite games, “The Spit List”. Some general rules were established. Your Spit List doesn’t have to be long. But it can’t be people like Bob in Accounting—it has to be some kind of public figure and preferably not a politician like George Bush—that’s too obvious. People can move on and off your Spit List for no reason. Over time, the easiest way to get onto the Spit List was to misbehave at an event, which is what happened at that very first celebrity party when I nearly had a meltdown over Boy George and a male model.