It better be temporary because New Yorkers are used to a type A life and right now the oomph seems to have disappeared from the city. The only language you don't hear on Fifth Avenue is English and the only languages you do hear on Bergdorf Goodman's couture floor seem foreign to my ears.
Power charged restaurants like Michael's, Settemezzo and Swifty's are crowded as usual but familiar Wall Street faces whose companies lost money for shareholders are shunned when they appear in public. Wednesday of any given week is big media coverage day at Michael's and if you've got a black star against your name, it's best to eat at your desk ...if you still have one. The New York Post recently reported that former Merrill Lynch chief Stanley O'Neal was greeted with scowls and quickly escorted through the restaurant to a low profile table in the very back. The unscathed Lazard CEO Bruce Wasserstein sat at a table opposite me but hardly wore the expression of a happy hound dog.
While it was never polite to talk about money growing up, that's the only thing people talk about now and it's definitely not chic to look like you're spending it. Earlier this summer in the lobby of my upscale 285 unit high rise, I overheard one mommy reveal that her children had never flown commercial. I doubt you'll hear that now. A young-ish hedge fund dad confided that he's put aside about $200,000 in cash to get through the next two years of private schools and general living expenses.
I was part of a conversation at Settemezzo about what one might give up first in hard times — Botox or a vacation. The vacation was first to go. During this same intimate chat, I also heard that one night New York cosmetic dermatologist Ellen Gendler walked through the restaurant waving to every wrinkle free man and woman knowing she was responsible for their $2,500 minimum unworried looking faces.
There's still a lot of Upper East Side streaked blond hair but I'm now into the trashy rock star look myself with lots of roots thanks to my color wizard Frank Friscioni at Madison Avenue's Oscar Blandi salon. While I never pay less than $250 for a half head of streaks, I'm still saving since I gave up the perfect blond look which needed $100 touch ups every two weeks. Frank confided that even his laid off Goldman Sachs clients — men and women — aren't giving up hair color. What he does hear is economizing in other areas including taking doggy bags home with unfinished dinners to be recycled for next day's lunch (my former boss Helen Gurley Brown always did this raised as she was in the original depression era).
Expectations for fund raising efforts are being lowered and during one boarding school fund raising conference call, it was decided to hold off asking alumni for money at least until either the economy picked up or a new President proved inspirational. One important arts advocacy program is forgoing hors d'oeuvres at its upcoming cocktail event because it will add $5,000 to the budget. Vodka will still be served but you might want to bring your own peanuts.
And I haven't met anyone who will own up to being a Republican in my Upper East Side 'hood except maybe Georgette Mosbacher and Ed Rollins...and maybe one of my brothers who thinks only of his Asprey wallet. At Settemezzo, I overheard Saul Steinberg's son remark that his dad was probably the only Republican left in town. I moved tables shortly after Saul arrived because my feelings run very high on that subject and I worry about curbing my mouth should anyone mention Sarah Palin.
While my CEO clients in the financial sector are worrying about their own jobs and I am busy reaching out to new ones in the media and healthcare industries (better living through chemistry I always say especially in these halcyon days of Xanax and Valium), my personal schedule has changed too. I find myself at Walgreen's along with the double wide stroller set and some daddies who seem to be newly footloose and looking uncomfortable as they cruise the aisles for Pampers and Wet Ones. Wait til you see the dads hit the gyms during Mommy and Me hours.
I'm now waiting for the nannies to be replaced by actual parents — a sure sign the Escalades could be moving to parking spaces in the suburbs. Perhaps New Jersey is looking up?
Clearly the little things are bugging me now; I'm just not used to feeling unstructured in my work life and I'm not good at enjoying my free time because that darn work ethic haunts me. I anticipate you'll start to see other short tempered folks as well and not just the crazy people who scream at the sky. I am much less forgiving of people who walk too slowly or lines at check out counters that aren't orderly. I even scolded a pet owner whose Chihuahua wasn't wearing a sweater on a 65 degree day.
I'm thinking it's time to pull out the old mantra and go back to meditating.
Ommmmm and I hate this.