“BEING SEEN” by Nancy McBride
Twice I’ve opened the Boston Globe—not a regular reader—and been literally transported, each big time. First, when I lived in Buffalo, someone thrust a copy in my face, and said, “Go, East!” It was kismet. I spotted a blind ad describing a job in Massachusetts—no company name, only a post box number. That job quickly materialized and the girls and I shifted our lives East five weeks later.
The second time, it magically opened to a full-page ad for Northwest Airlines! They were starting flights from Boston to Sydney, and the maiden flight was $724 RT. A single mother, knowing I’d never be able to pay full fare, I booked immediately, and got THE last ticket to go 5 weeks hence.
1. Call Nigel, a man I’d met at breakfast at a B&B in Edinburgh, Scotland, and with whom I had exchanged business cards. “Please meet me at the airport, take me to my hostel, and be an emergency contact for my girls? Okay?” “Certainly!” Check.
2. Call my friend, Chere for contacts. (She was a sophisticated woman who once wore her floor length mink coat and a swoopy hat to support me singing in a local concert. Both the chorus and the audience gasped then froze as she made her dramatic entrance—late—swishing down the isle to flop flamboyantly in the first row. Shook, we started the concert over “from the top!” An Australian billionaire’s wife, here she was living with a local Italian she’d met skiing in the Alps. Apparently, her husband sent her anywhere she wanted to go when she was bored. He thought she was going to nursing school. Far be it for me…) Check.
3. Pack in a large backpack:
Hooded jacket, scarf, mittens, fleece vest, jeans, black turtleneck, long black, knit skirt, scoop neck black top, nighty, bathroom stuff, camera, sketchbook, hiking boots, socks, undies, dangly earrings, tickets and traveler’s checks. Check.
4. Itinerary. Nope. No plans whatsoever. Check.
5. Contact list with phone numbers. I had Chere’s best friends’ and her husband’s. She had told them each to be good to me, and told me not to tell them what she was doing, except going to nursing school. Check.
The first of my two weeks it poured. I was in a Hostel at Bondi Beach, and ended up helping an artist hang his show in a gallery alongside the beach shops, getting me out of the rain. The artist asked me to the opening. I asked my friend, Nigel, to go with me. “No one gets invited to those openings! Only the big shots!” “Well, then, I guess you’re now a big shot!”
One rainy day I watched men surfing. Suddenly, they came flying out of the water, clamoring up the beach screaming, “Shark!” “Shark!” They had mistakenly thought dolphins that’d joined them catching waves, were sharks. Once they realized they weren’t, they scuttled back in and surfed with them. It was magical.
Finally sunny, while on a tour bus to the nearby canyons, I was unceremoniously dumped on the outskirts of Sydney because they had Japanese tour company reps that wanted to go, and there wasn’t room. Three of us, tossed and flummoxed, righted ourselves, then rented an Ugly Duckling car and made up our own 18-hour tour. Wonderful locals fed us and showed us around. It was delightful.
Eating supper in the hostel one evening, I pondered aloud, “Should I go to Melbourne and visit Chere’s husband, or not?” My pals shrugged, “Why not?” I called Ian, and he said they’d love to have me! His swanky, aloof daughters picked me up from the airport. Surprise! No guest room in the inn; I was shown to a dressing room off Ian’s bedroom where Chere’s furs were kept—actually a closet. I slept on the fainting couch. I shared his bathroom with a sunken tub, and gold fixtures. This mansion was a not-so miniature Versailles, with three monstrous bedrooms, each with bathrooms the size of my downstairs! It was pure luxury with a massive foyer, terrazzo flooring, ceiling murals, manicured gardens, a formal dining room for 30, Ming vases, and some Impressionists paintings—real ones. And it echoed with loneliness.
Ian and I cooked supper, and we four ate in the kitchen. After dinner, he asked if we could have a “family night” to sort Chere’s society press-clippings for scrapbooks. The girls—Paris Hilton types—rolled their eyes and excused themselves. Poor, lonely guy; I said I’d help. At four in the morning we quit. We had sorted at least five boxes of articles about her high society life that he’d meticulously clipped practically every day of their lives together. She had been a young, famous fashion model—eye candy—when he, the rich, up-and-coming middle-aged mogul married her. He went back to work, and she was coiffed, tucked, photographed, and bored.
One afternoon, her friend took me out. She introduced me to all her fancy friends as Chere’s best friend from the States, a “famous” food editor, author, etc. At first, I checked over my shoulder, looking for whomever, then figured out it was me, and gushed, “Oh! SO, nice to meet you.” (Gag.) Her tucked plastic surgeon was my favorite. Pathetic.
Later, her young lawyer lover (not her husband) picked us up in a limousine to take us to dinner. They politely asked where I’d like to go, but I deferred, not having a clue where I was, nor what part I played in this Fellini film. Openly, they conferred, “Well, where can we be SEEN?” I had to pretend to gaze, disinterested, out the window, sipping my champagne, pinky extended. It was all I COULD do in those circumstances.
We went to the right restaurant, tipped the concierge heavily (and not subtly), and were shown to the right table, where we were “SEEN” by the elite of Melbourne. “So! YOU’RE Chere’s American friend? How IS she?”
I have now beeeen seen.