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The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City
Dana Goldrich wondered how many this made. Five? Eight? Not that it really mattered, because this was it—her last drink. Well, not the last one. But the one that would nudge her from not tipsy enough to almost perfectly drunk. It was a fine line of demarcation—one that had taken thirty years of golf tournaments, charity auctions, five-figure-a-plate galas, endless corporate events, and months of homebound COVID-19 boredom to perfect—and she enjoyed the exercise.
But she didn’t want to drink so much that she embarrassed herself; her father had taught her that there was nothing worse than a sloppy drunk. So this was it—the final sip at the fountain. And in order to make sure things didn’t go south, she needed to make a pledge, so she called up the biggies: Scout’s honor; pinkie swear; honest Injun (was that one allowed anymore?); cross my heart and hope to die.
The cross my heart one ticked the most boxes. It had conviction bolstered by the romantic notion of death being preferable to dishonor.
Cross my heart.
She crossed her heart.
And hope to die.
She hoped to die. But left out the part about the needle—there was no need to tempt fate.
In crossing her heart, Dana spilled a little of her drink, which she found hilarious for some reason. She licked the vodka off her thumb and decided to head up the ramp.
Everyone else was amusing themselves talking shop, which meant one of two things tonight—the Big Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose, Revive) or stock tips. Dana found this particular mix of eco-corporate-dot-com people a hissy fit waiting to happen. Inevitably, one of the natosexuals would insult one of the venture capitalists, things would heat up, and someone would end up with a drink in their face. Maybe get cussed out. But she doubted anyone would throw a punch—as brutal as the Wall Street types liked to think of themselves, they weren’t physical people. And the carbon-footprint-obsessed folks? They believed in group hugs, not gang fights.
Her husband, Sheldon, was mingling with some of his hedge-fund buddies somewhere in the atrium below. Dana scanned the sea of evening wear, but there were an easy five hundred people in here, half of them wearing dinner jackets, including the waiters. Throw in that Shelly was not particularly tall and it was like looking for a diamond in an ice bucket. Which was ultimately fine with her; Dana wasn’t interested in hearing him pitch another of his funds—this time it was foreign annuities, mostly Saudi backed.
Of course, everyone was talking about the company hosting the event—Horizon Dynamics. Shelly was excited about a rumor circulating among his buddies that they were expecting a big announcement tonight—the kind that would make everyone involved a lot of money when the IPO went live tomorrow morning. And there had to be some truth to the rumor because Dana had already heard a few of the guests discussing various ways to circumvent the tax man.
She moved up the corkscrew gallery with slow, deliberate steps that indicated her blood alcohol ratio was somewhere near perfect. She had read up on this once—it was a matter of basic biology: ethanol passing the blood-brain barrier hijacked balance because humans inherited their inner ear from sharks. It was so simple you almost tripped over it. Which she did. But caught herself on the railing. And spilled a little more of her cocktail.
Dana ran into the wife of one of the account execs in Sheldon’s office, a woman with one of those saccharine finishing school nicknames that she could never remember—Muffy or Missy or something. She was with a friend who was rocking the Cruella de Vil look, complete with a two-tone marcel wave.
When Muffy/Missy saw Dana, she squealed and did an excited Pomeranian foot stamp. “Dana! What a lovely surprise.” Her facial muscles barely moved, but she was still able to pull her lips into what most people could figure out was supposed to be a smile.
Dana leaned forward, careful to hold her drink to the side, and they metronomed air kisses. “How nice to see you,” she said, trying to remember the woman’s name.
Muffy/Missy introduced her friend, but the name was lost in the noise. She displayed the same taxidermy procedures—and her mouth looked like an overbaked pizza pocket.
More air kisses.
Muffy/Missy asked about the kids (which Dana didn’t have), and wondered when she and Sheldon (only she called him Shelbon) were going to come out to the beach for another fabulous weekend (they had never been there).
Dana indicated a vague spot up the ramp. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she lied. “I promised someone I’d talk to them about an internship for one of their children. I’ll see you back downstairs.”
That seemed to satisfy Muffy/Missy, and she and Cruella continued their downward trajectory.
As Dana worked her way up toward the skylight and confetti machines, she ignored most of the art on display. The decor—which was all it really was—was a mix of Ansel Adams’s iconic photography of the natural world interlaced with Andy Warhol’s prints of mass-produced landfill. The Wall Street guys were throwing terms like juxtaposition, negative space, and rampant consumerism around as if they understood—or cared—about them. Dana worked in the art department at Christie’s, and she knew advertising when she saw it. When you looked at Warhol’s soup cans beside one of Adams’s Sierra portraits, it was impossible to miss the message: too much garbage, not enough forethought. Which was why they were all here: Horizon Dynamics was going to change the world. Or so the seven-story foil banners hanging from the ceiling declared in a classic ad agency focus group slogan: Today’s Solutions for Tomorrow’s Problems!
All of Warhol’s work looked like T-shirt art to her. Sure, it was popular. Sure, you immediately knew what you were looking at. Sure, it was a time stamp from an important cultural period. But so what? When Dana looked at the posters and silk-screen portraits, all she saw was a guy who had bothered to show up.
But as an investment? Warhol was a touchstone for both the nascent collector and the uninformed alike; he had brand recognition. It didn’t matter if it was a Brillo box, a portrait of Jagger overlaid with camouflage, or one of his early shoe sketches—they were all known commodities. Looking up a Warhol piece at auction was so much easier than going through the mental anguish of trying to understand how a small painting could be worth more than a large one. When you purchased a 1969 Campbell’s Soup II, signed in ballpoint and stamped with its series number, all you had to be able to do was read a catalogue.
But Adams was the real deal—an American giant. That his work was hanging here beside Warhol seemed like a snide remark to Dana. But she understood that not everyone got Adams—the biggest obstacle she faced when speaking to clients was getting them to equate his oeuvre to other art forms. It was sad how he had lost some of his relevance to an age where everyone who carried a cell phone camera fancied themselves a photographer. But to Dana, Adams’s work was like reading Whitman—and you either got it or you didn’t. And most people didn’t.
She was halfway through the final turn around the ramp when she realized that her glass was empty. And since she had spilled half of it, she was entitled to one more. But that would be it—a single drink. Then it was quits for the night. Cross her heart.
Copyright © 2020 by Robert Pobi