Another week has passed without my being invited over to the de la Rentas. Even that overstates my standing. Until I read in The New York Times Magazine a couple of weeks ago about the de la Rentas having become "barometers of what constitutes fashionable society" ("Francoise and Oscar de la Renta have created a latter-day salon for le nouveau grand monde -- the very rich, very powerful and very gifted"), I wasn't even aware of what I wasn't being invited to week after week. Once I knew, of course, it hurt.
Every time the phone rang, I thought it might be Mrs. de la Renta with an invitation ("Mr. Trillin? Francoise de la Renta here. We're having a few very rich, very powerful and/or very gifted people over Sunday evening to celebrate Tisha B'av, and we thought you and the missus might like to join us"). The phone rang. It was the lady from the Diners' Club informing me how quickly a person's credit rating can deteriorate. The phone rang. It was my mother calling from Kansas City to ask if I'm sure I sent a thank-you note to my Cousin Edna for the place setting of stainless Edna and six other cousins went in on for our wedding gift in 1965. The phone rang. An invitation! Fats Goldberg, the pizza baron, asked if we'd like to bring the kids to his uptown branch Sunday night to sample the sort of pizza he regularly describes as "a gourmet tap-dance."
"Thanks, Fat Person, but I'll have to phone you," I said. "We may have another engagement Sunday."
The phone quit ringing.
"Why aren't I in le nouveau grand monde?" I asked my wife, Alice.
"Because you speak French with a Kansas City accent," she asked in
"Not at all," I said. "Sam Spiegel, the Hollywood producer, is a regular at the de le Rentas, and I hear that the last time someone asked him to speak French he said 'Gucci.'"
"Why would you want to go there anyway?" Alice said. "Didn't you read that the host is so phony he addd his own 'de la' to what had been plain old Oscar Renta?"
"Who can blame a man for not wanting to go through life sounding like a taxi driver?" I said. "Family background's not important in le nouveau grand monde. Diana Vreeland says Henry Kissinger is the star. The Vicomtesse de Ribes says 'Francoise worships intelligence.' You get invited by accomplishment -- taking over a perfume company, maybe, or invading Cambodia."
"Why don't we just call Fats and tell him we'll be there for a gourmet tap-dance?" Alice said.
"Maybe it would help if you started wearing dresses designed by Oscar de la Renta," I said. "some of his guests say they would feel disloyal downing Mrs. d's chicken fricassee while wearing someone else's merchandise."
Alice shook her head. "Oscar de la Renta designs those ruffly dresses that look like what the fat girl made a bad mistake wearing to the prom," she said.
"Things were a lot easier when fashionable society was limited to old-rich goyim, and all the rest of us didn't have to worry about being individually rejected," I said.
"At least they knew better than to mingle socially with their dressmakers," Alice said.
Would I be ready if the de la Rentas phoned? The novelist Jerry Kosinski, after all, told The Times that evenings with them were "intellectually demanding." Henry Kissinger, the star himself, said that the de la Rentas set " an interesting intellectual standard" -- although, come to think of it, that phrase could also be applied to Fats Glodberg.
Alone at the kitchen table, I began to polish my dinner-table chitchat, looking first to the person I imagined being seated on my left (the Vicomtesse de Ribes, who finds it charming that her name reminds me of barbecue joints in Kansas City) and then to the person on my right (Barbara Walters, another regular, who has tried to put me at my ease by confessing that in French she doesn't do her r's terrible well). "I was encouraged when it leaked that the Reagan Cabinet was going to be made up of succerssful managers from the world of business," I say, "but I expected them all to be Japanese."
Barbara and the Vicomtesse smile, Alice, who had just walked into the kitchen, looked concerned.
"Listen," Alice said. "I read in The Times that Mrs. de la Renta is very strict about having only one of each sort of person at a dinner party. Maybe they already have someone from Kansas City."
Possible. Jerry Kosinski mentioned that Mrs. d is so careful about not including more than one stnning achiever from each walk of life ("she understands that every profession generates a few princes or kings") that he and Norman Mailer have never been at the de la Rentas on the same evening ("when I arrive, I like to think that, as a novelist, I'm unique"). Only one fabulous beauty. Only one world-class clotheshorse.
Then I realized that the one-of-each rule could work to my advantage. As I envisioned it, Henry Kissinger phones Mrs. d only an hour before dinner guests are to arrive. He had been scheduled to pick up fifteen grand that night for explaining SALT II to the Vinyl Manufacturers Association convention in Chicago, but the airports are snowed in. He and Nancy will be able to come to dinner after all. "How marvelous, darling!" Mrs. d says.
She hangs up and suddenly looks stricken. "My God!" she says to Oscar. "What are we going to do? We already have one war criminal coming!"
What to do except to phone the man who conflicts with the star and tell him the dinner had to be called of because Mr. d had come down with a painful skin disease known as the Seventh Avenue Shpilkes. What to do about the one male place at the table now empty -- between Vicomtesse de Ribes and Barbara Walters?
The phone rings. "This is Francoise de la Renta," the voice says.
"This is Calvin of the Trillin," I say. "I'll be right over."