Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jackie Onassis Powders My Nose

Jackie and Brendan were our heroes that day.

    Last week, the centennial of the spectacular Grand Central Terminal in New York City was celebrated. Nearly 35 years ago, in 1978, I attended an ecstatic Municipal Art Society gathering, after a Supreme Court decision saved the landmark from demolition. My escort was Brendan Gill, who was co-chairman, along with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, of the committee that fought for three years to preserve the beloved structure.
    An aide directed me to the "VIP Powder Room" moments before the event was set to begin. I dashed in, nearly colliding with Mrs. Onassis, who was exiting the only toilet stall in the tiny pink lavatory.
    It was the greatest toilet seat of my life. In my star-struck state, I felt that she had imbued it with a precious warmth, softness and sweetness. It was magic -- what a lady!

The gloriously restored terminal.
    My problem was that I had a very shy bladder. Whenever I used a public restroom, I had to sit there until everyone left before my tinkling could begin.
    But Mrs. Onassis wasn't leaving. She had washed her beautiful hands, of course, and was now refreshing her makeup.
    My heart was pounding!
    I desperately needed to do my business and get out of there. Brendan was waiting for me inside the ballroom. The former architecture critic -- and current theater critic -- for The New Yorker magazine was an effusive and generous friend, but he had an impatient streak. He wanted to get me seated before he and Jackie posed for the photographers and then ascended to the dais.
Jackie and Brendan had waged a savvy, persistent, creative battle.
     This was one of those times that I was forced to pray, promising God that if he would give me what I needed, I would finally believe in Him.
    "Please, let me pee," I implored silently, looking upward.
    And thus did the floodgates open and release the sound of a majestic river.
    When I emerged from the stall, immensely relieved and grateful (but still an atheist: ha, ha!), I was determined not to intrude on this moment of privacy for Mrs. Onassis, who would soon be addressing the attendees, followed by Brendan and then by Philip Johnson, one of the most eminent architects in U.S. history.
Philip Johnson's designs were iconic.
     I kept my head down as I washed my hands, but ultimately I couldn't resist a sideways glance at Jackie's reflection in the mirror. Much to my surprise, she was looking back at me, with an amused smile. She was gorgeous, in a dark velvet gown.
    "Hello," she said, in that whispery voice.
    It would have been just like me to blurt out an embarrassing confession of my irrationally intense affection and respect for her, or to ask her a bunch of questions about "the real truth," or even to burst into tears (which I often do in my dreams, when I meet someone I admire).
    But I just said, "Hello" right back at her, and got out my hairbrush for a quick fluff-up.
    She was using an opalescent compact, and just as she was about to close it, she said, "Wouldn't some powder be nice?"
    Before I even realized what she meant, she had lightly touched my nose with her little puff, as if she were Tinkerbell with a magic wand. "That's better," she said, with creamy satisfaction.

    If anyone else had done that to me, I would have found it to be  pretty presumptuous. But with Mrs. Onassis, it was a lovely -- almost maternal -- gesture.
    I thanked her as she glided out of the room. 
    I guess in the world of Bouviers and Kennedys, a shiny nose is simply unacceptable -- perhaps even regarded as coarse. The glitterati powder their noses, but I never have and never will! 
     I wanted my nose to be shiny. For me, it had been an emblem of cleanliness since high school, just as shiny hair had. Actually, I was pretty shiny all over, since Brendan and I had been drinking in the Algonquin Hotel lobby for two hours before coming here. I felt quite sparkly, rosy and healthy. Why mess with that?
    (I liked my few remaining freckles as well -- holdovers from my childhood in Utah -- even though the Style Elite would probably have insisted that I obscure them with concealer.) 
    I always carried foil-wrapped cotton balls, dampened with Jean Nate body splash, in my purse, so I could keep my skin fresh throughout the day and evening. I used one, and restored my nose to its former blinding sheen
"Why does your nose smell so good?"
     I meant no disrespect to Mrs. Onassis, and I was honestly touched by her well-motivated intervention. But I was a defiantly headstrong ingenue, and I strode into the ballroom with my "you-could-even-say-it-glows" nose, ready to repel any additional powder-puff assaults. 
    I knew that my former boss, Bess Myerson, would be in there somewhere (, squired by Mayor Ed Koch, but she wasn't the type to help improve the appearance of another woman. If she noticed me at all, she'd probably dig her fingernails into my arm and mutter, "How did you get in here?"
Bess was Mayor Koch's "first lady."
    I remember virtually nothing else about that evening. I remained focused on the toilet seat, and still do. What a bizarre thing to savor as one of your fondest memories. 
    How did Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis suffuse a mere plastic oval with delicacy and simple refinement? How did she make it convey such humane consideration? Oddly enough, it always makes me think of rose petals.  
    If each of us could provide the next user with the same satiny comfort that Mrs. Onassis bestowed upon me, we would all be walking around smiling, with clean and dry derrieres. The world would be a better place. (Please, ladies: Stop squatting and splashing all over the seat. It's disgusting! Remember Jackie, and follow her enlightened lead.)