Hostess Betty Bernard didn’t know what she was letting herself in for when she invited the television producer Mark Gatheral and the newspaper critic Gracie Phitts to the same soirée. Mr. Gatheral was a corpulent, but still handsome, man of 45. Ms. Phitts was an attractive dynamic go-getter in her early 30s. They could both be charming, but they were also career obsessed.
Betty was the socialite widow of an agri-business bio-engineering king. The bottom line, she was overburdened with money and loved inviting her friends and acquaintances to dinner parties. Her gatherings were always a mix of people at the top of their professions. Unfortunately, she didn’t always do background checks or keep up with the latest gossip. While she didn’t have a mean bone in her body, it sometimes transpired that her guest list turned into a virtual setup.
She held court on the 60th floor of a five-star hotel and condo complex just up from the city’s waterfront. One particular evening in early March, 10 well-attired individuals perused, fondled and roamed among the mahogany, chintz, Wedgewood and Limoges of Betty’s home.
The canapés and hors d’oeuvres were served and consumed in the living room as a prelude to the meal that was to come in the dining area. Mark and Gracie were able to keep their distance at first, by circling around opposite sides of the room. Once everyone was seated, however, and the two of them were facing each other across the table, the inevitable happened.
The opening soup dish was a choice of hot turnip or cold potato. For those who picked the former, the atmosphere quickly turned nippy. For those partaking of the latter, gasps were soon heard from the gazpacho crowd. That was because Mark immediately had a go at Gracie.
MARK: Somebody please take away Ms. Phitts’ knife. I was recently eviscerated in one of her columns and I don’t want it to happen again. This time, in person.
GRACIE: That’s okay, as long as I’m left with a fork, so I can stick it into your pompous frame, Mr. Gatheral.
MARK: Have I ever told you, Ms. Phitts, that I consider you to be a B-list talent. Just a B-lister, my dear.
GRACIE (taking a second to think about it): A B-list talent, you say. Okay, so maybe I am. I guess that means I should be kept away from the A talent. I need to be segregated. Don’t want to bother the quality people.
Say, aren’t you the one who made a fortune on a reality TV show about teenagers riding around in the basket of a hot air balloon. They were flashing and mooning the deer and the antelope and people in shopping mall parking lots. “Boogie Flights” I believe it was called. A big hit.
MARK: No thanks to you. I still remember the headline of your review. You must have been very proud of your creativity on that one.
GRACIE: Yes, I liked it. “Bad Taste Pumped Up on Helium Turns to Tedium.” And now you’ve got a new show, “Snow Bored.” When you were younger, you were considered an auteur genius. What went wrong?
MARK: What do you mean? I came up with the title of “Snow Bored” myself. It has at least three meanings. It helps to be an educated man.
GRACIE: A bunch of randy college-age kids carrying on again. This time, they’re running around in the freezing cold wearing ridiculous hats and T-shirts. Or nothing at all. Every week someone gets voted off when they’re handed an empty beer can. It’s a glorification of stupidity.
MARK: There’s a whole vibrant sub-culture out there that doesn’t get enough attention. That’s the crowd I appeal to. I’ve come to realize that they’re my kind of people.
GRACIE: Uh-huh. I know that the intelligentsia likes to throw a bone to the hick fringe every once in a while. Saves them from getting beaten up. And making a fortune doesn’t hurt either.
MARK: I must apologize, Betty. Clearly there is someone here tonight who is a less than gracious guest at such a fine social gathering as this.
GRACIE: That’s true, Betty. And it really is nice of Mark to point this out so publicly. No doubt about it. This is the forum for us to air our differences.
The hostess and the rest of the guests look increasingly appalled.
MARK: You’re really bad at mixing in society, aren’t you? So you have a newspaper column and that’s where all your social faux pas get fixed. You have some scores to settle, I suppose.
GRACIE: Are you telling me that you really don’t know? The whole point of writing professionally is revenge.
MARK: Didn’t you make an appearance at some recent awards show and throw up?
GRACIE: That was because I have a chemical imbalance. My psychiatrist is always warning me about it. I take medication to control the problem.
MARK: A chemical imbalance? Is that where flaky mixes with crazy and the amalgam becomes unstable? By the way, why are you speaking with an upper-crust accent? My people tell me you’re from Toronto.
GRACIE: I spent considerable time in London during my formative years. (hesitation) Year. (longer pause) Month.
MARK: And when was that?
GRACIE: While I was doing background research on a tip I received that David Bowie was having an affair with the Queen.
MARK: Yes, I seem to remember that fiasco. That must have been embarrassing for you.
GRACIE: Well it wasn’t my fault that my informant got the wrong queen. Anyway, while I was in London, I absorbed the culture.
MARK: You’re quite the sponge.
GRACIE: Okay, speaking of flaws Clause, how about you? Look at the size of you. How did things work out at that food-and-drink addiction clinic you admitted yourself to? What’s that, your third glass of wine?
MARK: I have a large body that needs fueling. I’m big-boned.
GRACIE: And why did you miss our scheduled interview? I hear you’re always missing interviews.
MARK: So what if I show up late once in a while. It doesn’t do anybody any harm.
GRACIE: It’s stressful and it’s unprofessional. Reporters have deadlines, you know.
MARK: Come on. I didn’t really upset you that much, did I?
GRACIE: Yes you did and I happen to know that you become stressed easily too. My people tell me you keep checking yourself into the hospital to have your heart monitored. How hard do they have to search for it? Behind the big bones, I mean.
MARK: I’ve never been talked to like this before. I know a lot of important people in the entertainment business. I’m going to tell them to boycott you.
GRACIE: You’re dreaming if you think you have that kind of power. Sure, some of them will agree at first. Then when I call them for an interview, they’ll get stars in their eyes. There’s few in your hoity-toity crowd that can resist seeing their names in print.
MARK: But, but…(turning to the hostess)…. Please accept my apologies, Betty. I feel that I must leave. These insults are unacceptable.
G: Likewise, Betty. I’m sorry about this extreme example of performance art. Good evening everyone.
They took their exits before the entrée. On the way out, they both grabbed their coats.
Waiting in the harsh light of the alcove for the single elevator which serviced the two top-floor penthouse units, their bubbling-over fevers cooled a degree or two. When the door to the carriage finally opened, they boarded together and Mark ventured a comment.
MARK: I missed our appointment because I was looking after my sick grandmother.
GRACIE: Please. You’re lying.
MARK: Was it that obvious? You’re a tempestuous little minx, aren’t you Ms. Phitts.
GRACIE: Yes, I can be. But you really are annoying.
MARK: I know. I must apologize. You’re not just a B talent.
GRACIE: Oh? And what am I.
GRACIE: Gee. How nice of you.
MARK: No, I’m just having fun with you. You really do A-quality work. Most of the time.
GRACIE: And how do you rate yourself, Mr. Gatheral.
MARK: In these past few years, H for hack.
GRACIE: That’s a little harsh. Try again.
MARK: G for girth.
GRACIE: I see you’re working your way back up the alphabet. Next, it’ll be F for fool.
MARK: Please, Gracie. Can I call you Gracie? I thought we were starting to connect.
GRACIE: Humph. Actually, I don’t mind your girth. Let’s just say you’re well-rounded. Or a man of substance.
MARK: And I know perfectly well what substance you’re thinking of.
GRACIE (smiling for the first time): Yes, well, I have a little of that in me as well.
MARK: So, no need for prune cocktails then?
GRACIE: Let’s just say I keep regular (now giggling)
MARK: You know, I may be starting to like you.
GRACIE: Don’t strain yourself. (giggles again)
The elevator came to a stop on the ground floor and they disembarked.
MARK: You wanna go for a drink. I’ve got stories I can tell you.
GRACIE: Will they be off the record?
MARK: Absolutely. The best kind.
GRACIE: Okay then, this might prove interesting.
Ten months later, in the year-end wrap-up edition of What’s Up – the cheeky monthly magazine distributed inside the tabloid edition of The Daily Digest – the following question was put to a number of high-profile women in the fashion, arts and media communities: Who was the sexiest man you met in the past year?
Gracie Phitts was among the ten women questioned. She was delighted to go on record. “Well there was this man that I was lucky enough to meet at a dinner party. You all know him. His name is.….”