Are New Yorkers as fancy as I think they are?

First, writing-related things that are happening to me:

I’m on The Hairpin! I’m talking about getting mistaken for a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, in Times Square.

And the amazing Rachel Rabbit White talks about Bear and me in this piece on the Frisky, and it makes me feel really special and slightly famous.

And I’m on Mamamia, the big Australian site. You guys might have already read this piece, since it was on the blog first. It’s about how annoying it is when people tell women to just get confident.

Why do good things always happen all at the same time? I’m not just saying that because it’s a thing people say. My life works like that all the time. It annoys me. It makes savoring hard, and I’m already bad at savoring.

But here’s what I’m really talking about today:

Fancy, fancy New York City.

A friend of mine got invited to Esquire Magazine’s  78th birthday party in the Esquire Penthouse, which happens to be here in my neighborhood, in an apartment called “the clocktower” that I know about because my mom sent me an article about how it’s the most expensive apartment in Brooklyn. $25 million. Wow. Seriously? Who knew I was so close to something so rare and precious?

The apartment is literally a clocktower, with multiple floors and four massive working clock faces. It looks like this:

(except dark and sexy and bigger than this picture I found on the internet lets on. source)

It is not really Esquire Magazine’s penthouse– they’re just renting it. But “just” is probably the wrong word. God knows how much it costs to rent. In any case, my friend asked me to go as her plus one and of course I went, because I really wanted to see this place. But of course I was scared of everyone else who was going, because I was pretty sure they were going to be really fancy people.

My only other experience with a real NYC Party For The Literary Elite involved a small herd of models who walked in hours late and then stood along one wall (of a different and significantly smaller penthouse apartment), as though they were responsibly fulfilling their end of a bargain. I was wearing distinctly the wrong shoes. I wasn’t sure, after that, whether the shoes I’d been wearing were even close to cool.

Because I am a New Yorker now, and people who aren’t from this city are sometimes impressed with me or disdainful of me for that simple fact, I feel occasionally like I should live up to it. I’m not sure what “it” is. I am pretty sure it involves going to parties in clocktowers where you can stand on a glass-walled deck at the top of the world and see all of Manhattan sparkling below you, just across the dark, shining sweep of the river.


I wore a dress from H&M with a snakeskin pattern on it. I like it because it has long sleeves which cover my chubby upper arms (I’m being totally honest right now), but the plunging neckline is awkward, and I’m not comfortable showing my bra, especially since it’s never sexy enough, so I pinned it with a butterfly pin that was my great grandmother’s.

“Baba,” I thought, “What would you have thought of a party like this?”

She spoke seven languages because that was what it was like where she lived, and she is called beautiful now, after her death, which I think is mostly based on how awesome she was, which I like a lot. She had a big nose.

Anyway, suddenly, there I was at the Esquire Penthouse Party, and my friend and I were eating lots of those tiny hot dogs and tiny crispy cones full of tuna tartar, and other concoctions by the famous chef who was catering the event. I was drinking some sort of apple cider-themed drink with a lot of vodka in it, and walking up flight after flight of floating stairs in my short stilettos, wobbling a little, passing confident-looking women in black and white and red, with big, dramatic jewelry and silky hair, heading for the top of the world. Along the way, we ran into rooms with long, low lounging beds, covered in shaggy furs and velvet pillows. The lights were low and on the main floor, fire bloomed in tall, glass canisters, like performance art.

The executive editor ( that might not be his exact title) of the magazine told the gathered crowd later that the apartment was decorated to resemble the bachelor pad of a “very successful” bachelor. I wasn’t sure about the enormous sparkling balls hanging from the fantastically high ceiling, but everything else was just about exactly how you might imagine that. Dark, rich stuff and sharp, glass contemporary stuff. Animal skin chairs and those clear ghost chairs. Large, subtle rugs.

I felt like I had entered a fantasy of elite New York City life.

And I had.

I was so intimidated at first that I didn’t even glance at the other people. They registered in blurs of black and white and red and chunky jewelry. I said “excuse me” and squeezed through them for another tiny hot dog. But later, when the finalists from the “short short story” competition we were apparently also celebrating that night got up, introduced by Colum McCann, who I now know all about (he was wearing the same outfit as in the picture on the Wikipedia page), and, obviously terrified, attempted to read aloud their pieces, I began to realize that I might not be the only one feeling completely out of place. One of the finalists was from Alabama, I think, and he looked a little stunned, his eyes slightly glazed. I looked down from our towering height at the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges like sparkling chains of Christmas lights, strung over the silent water between cities, and I wondered if he thought this was what New York was always like.

I wonder if this is what I think New York is always like, even though I almost never get to see it like this.

And then I looked around the room and noticed that a lot of the young women were wearing flats, and their outfits weren’t sultry or even very daring. There were some older people, bunched together. There were some dorky young guys who were playing up their dorkiness because it’s OK as long as you’re a good journalist or maybe look like one. There were a few incredibly glamorous people, but mostly there were people like me, looking like they didn’t quite belong in the Esquire Penthouse, generously applauding for the nervous writers.

I had what felt in the moment like a profound thought. Maybe we’re all pretending a little. Because of this city and everything everyone expects from it and from us because we’re in it.


I felt a little more comfortable, in the clocktower, and on the way down I made a joke to the guy manning the elevator, with the curly earpiece. Something about how I’d take my twenty-five million dollars elsewhere, because the space was too cramped. He didn’t think it was amusing.

*   *   *

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in my snakeskin patterned dress and my butterfly pin.

P.S. Can stilettos be short? It’s just the thinness of the heel that makes them stilettos, right? Not anything to do with the height?




Kate on November 3rd 2011 in being different, new york, uplifting

17 Responses to “Are New Yorkers as fancy as I think they are?”

  1. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    this life is but an illusion kate…to be savored, but not taken seriously…in your own 20-something way, you already get that :)

  2. Somer responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    I adore your voice. Glad I ran across your site via Penelope Trunk. And, yes, I think we’re all a bit pretending.

  3. Twyla responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    stiletto heel: a high thin heel on women’s shoes that is narrower than a spike heel

  4. Rebecca responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    i truly enjoy the way you write… your honesty… your willingness to put yourself out there and risk maybe a wee bit of yourself. i enjoy your sense of humor and the way you poke fun at yourself. kimmy is right… you do already get it… and we, your readers, read you because you transcend your age and make some of us, talking about me certainly, wish we had also gotten it at your age.

    p.s. i googled stiletto and found that it was defined as a long, thin, high heel found on some boots and shoes, usually for women. i, for one, love the idea that one could be short, too. i am short and love that fact about myself.

    p.s.s. keep up the fabulous writing… i am a good number of years ahead of you, and i love to read whatever you write. i really enjoyed the piece on home-schooling, too! i don’t know who suggested to you that it was too long, but i loved the details… they made the story for me!

  5. Caitlin responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    I always feel this way in New York as well – even though I’m from the East Coast and have been there hundreds of times. I always imagine that other people have way more information than I did beforehand – on the vibe, the crowd, what exactly to wear, coat check. Then I get there and try to catch up.

    Glad I’m not the only one – and your outfit sounds great! I have a zebra print dress I only wear out in NY, it would be too much in the Midwest.

  6. Angela responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    I am not a New Yorker but I am totally pretending.

  7. Kate responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    Thank you so much!! I’m really, really flattered.

    And thank you everyone, for the information about stilettos. Why don’t I just google things? Maybe because I like when I get to find out from you? Maybe because I’m incredibly lazy? A combination?

  8. Kate responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    It’s amazing– the human capacity for pretending. We can do it anywhere, at any time!

  9. Deanna responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    I love your perception of life and the events that make up our lives. Most people go to these things or experience things and have no idea. Like you, I tend to think about these things. You do have a voice and I enjoy reading your take.

    A lot of Non New Yorkers believe that New Yorkers are an elite bunch. Of course there is some truth to this stereotype as there is some truth to many stereotypes, but it applies to a small group of New Yorkers.

    When I finished my graduate degree I had an all day interview at a Madison Ave. advertising agency. I met with 8 people in total. I was doing really well until I had to meet with a woman just a few years older than me and Ivy league educated. She hated me from the get go. To me she fit the ‘type’ of wealthy, Waspy, Ivy Leaguey with all the accoutrements and the type that is as alien to me as a two headed martian. I never got the job and I know it had to do with her. She would correct me when I spoke (correct me? For heaven’s sake I speak 6 languages..!)and she kept looking at my $98 suit as if I had taken it off a dead hobo.

    I also had a friend some time ago who was a writer living in NY. He was brilliant but his brilliance made it impossible for him to communicate with anyone with an IQ lower than 150. He would often quote great writers or bring up obscure musicians expecting me to know what he was talking about. It got so frustrating I found I couldn’t hang out with him. I probably would have had more fun with someone who spoke a language that was completely foreign to me. I also got the distinct feeling he was showing off.

    Anyway…as usual I am off on a tangent but I’m happy you started yet another great topic.

  10. Sooz responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    “maybe we’re all pretending a little” honey….there ain’t no MAYBE about it….whether we live in NYC or Timbuktu….we are ALL pretending at least some of the time. :) Thanks for another great post!

  11. Kate responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Six languages?? I’m intimidated by you. A lot.

    Also, I know SO MANY people like the guy you described. I want to be smart enough to talk with them. Often I’m not. So I joke around instead.

  12. Kerry responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    This post made me think of the first time I visited Vegas. I was in my early twenties and nervous, ready to be intimidated by the debauchery and dazzled by the outfits and the money. And sure, there was some of that, but I remember thinking much more often “Huh. This place is full of fat people from the Midwest. And old ladies. And families (?) And corporate people at conferences. It was disappointing, exhilarating, and comforting all at the same time, and for some reason made me feel very wise, once I’d gotten the fake veneer out of my system.

  13. Kate responded on 03 Nov 2011 at 5:22 pm #


  14. Silvia responded on 04 Nov 2011 at 12:50 am #

    I am from Italy and have lived around the world, and now that I’m back and look at things with broader eyes I finally realise everyone here is pretending just to avoid looking different and therefore weird, and the funny thing is there’s really no need to, because Italians are seen as weird people by the rest of the world anyway! Which leads to the fact that where I am living now people have really a short sight and it is SO sad. And, by the way, I look weird.

  15. Eat the Damn Cake » can’t clean up good responded on 16 Nov 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    [...] I went to that penthouse party recently, I looked pretty good. I did not look transformed. I looked like me wearing a cool dress [...]

  16. Eat the Damn Cake » no title responded on 28 Dec 2011 at 1:25 am #

    [...] Some of my friends have great titles. I have a feeling they get invited to cooler parties than me. I don’t get invited to that many parties. [...]

  17. Eat the Damn Cake » goddamn dreamer responded on 02 Feb 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    [...] At least there’s this: I don’t want to be famous and get invited to all the best penthouse parties and know all the names of the owners of the sexiest clubs. I don’t want fame to follow me [...]