New York – circa 1977. There are moments in history that act as postcards from one era to another – a kind of ‘I wish you were here.’ Nothing major happens: no colossal wars that redefine the globe, no sudden ice age to inspire migration, and no plagues to stop the fun. These moments are what we reflect on during times of havoc. We tend to think of them as peaceful periods, sometimes called ‘times of innocence’ which is a misnomer, since they usually are anything but. They seem to pop up a lot in art. You know, cave paintings in France, vases found buried in Greece, pictures of parties in yellowing newspapers.
I came to New York in 1975 by Greyhound from Bismarck, North Dakota. Since I was 16, technically I was a runaway. Yet, I preferred to think of it back then, as I do now, as running toward something. You have heard the story before, so I’m not going to bore you with a laundry list of details; suffice to say repressive religious background, an uncle that was a bit too friendly, and a high school art teacher who told me I could model.
If I had taken New York by storm, you would have already heard of me so let’s not kid ourselves. I was pretty and I did mange to nab some modeling gigs, in between glamorous stints as a coat check girl and accessories clerk. Yet, that’s the story of a million girls who come to New York via places like Bismarck. The truth was that I wasn’t interested in setting the town on its proverbial ear, I was wholly impressed with the fact that I was living in New York and the city hadn’t swallowed me.
During the Studio 54 days I was living in a two-bedroom apartment in the Village with four other models. We thought we were the undiscovered stars of tomorrow and acted accordingly. We would walk down the street for a bagel wearing cheap teddies we had lifted from a Sears catalog shoot. We believed it was just a matter of time until we fell into a better and more exciting crowd – a group au courant of our untapped potential.
Mind you, this was an era when what was left of the sixties were the drugs and sex (the idealism from that decade was considered as quaint as a ladies luncheon at a garden club). Plus, we had the materialism of the eighties without AIDS. It was the perfect time to get fucked and fucked up. I had a new boyfriend every week and each week I would trade out the old one for one who had more money or better connections. That’s how I moved up in the world. That’s how I met Andy Warhol.
Meeting Andy Warhol was one of my goals. Regardless of all my brava I was still one of those people who had to stand in line for entrance into the city’s hotspots. At Studio 54, I was pretty enough to catch the bouncer’s eye, “You in the short red dress go in” but it was never, “Carley, what’s up? Go right in.”
I would watch Bianca, Halston, and even Liza, ushered through the crowd as if they were Brahmin and we who stood transfixed were the untouchables. They were followed by their sycophants, most were not as pretty, not as creative, not as witty as their host. Yet, somehow they finagled the golden opportunity of stupping in the footsteps of greatness.
Roger Thomas considered himself an ARTIST - not an artist. We met on the subway where he noticed I was carrying my portfolio and one pick up line melted into another. My fling with Roger wouldn’t have lasted past the third night if he hadn’t mentioned that on Thursday he was going to go to a party at Warhol’s. Suddenly putting up with his pretentiousness and body odor was a means to an end.
I wore black pants and a white Halston jacket as a top. I knew this ensemble would not make me stand out from the crowd, but would not attract the ridicule of those with sharp tongues hungry for socially awkward prey. The first person of note I spotted was Jerry Hall who looked nervous and slightly altered, someone mentioned that she was hoping Bianca wouldn’t show up to yell at her for screwing Mick. Brigid Berlin bummed a cigarette off me, but I didn’t know who she was until Roger made reference to her Warhol films.
The reverie continued in this vain until 3:00 AM when the crowd thinned and the only recognizable person was Pat Hackett who was complaining loudly about how there was no one to fuck because all the men in New York were fags. I took this as my cue to leave. I hadn’t seen Roger since midnight, thus concluded our relationship was over.
I was glowing over the fact that I had been to a Warhol party – albeit one minus Warhol. It had rained during the evening and I debated where I could score a taxi when a town car pulled up with the back window down. In his bird like voice, Warhol asked me, “Is it over?” Halston was sitting beside him with a bored expression.
Trying to suppress my midwestern urge to gush over the famous, I answered, “Pretty much.”
“Did you have fun?” his wig was a bit ajar.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Good,” he replied and then nodded to the driver to head off.
That was it, no clever banter, no silly incident that would mark our meeting as memorable in his mind. In his diary, printed after his death, he mentioned that he went to dinner with Halston in order to avoid all “the riff-raff Pat seemed so determined to court and then dare to invite into his home.”
Over thirty years later I am living in Connecticut with my second husband and only one of our four children continues to live with us - he will be in college next year. Last spring I went under the knife and now have the same breasts I had circa 1977. I was a soccer mom, now I’m waiting to be a soccer grandmother, in ever sense of the word.
I’m sure my children would be shocked if they found out the things I used to do with abandon back in the day. Even my husband, who works for a brokerage firm, finds it hard to imagine and we met at a singles’ bar. I have never told him about meeting Warhol. It is the one thing I have kept to myself. Some moments are sweet fleeting victories over lives that are otherwise mundane.
© 2005 Westerfield