Chapter 6: Bad Kitty and the Donors



Though Bad Kitty continued to enjoy the havoc wrought by Celia’s leaks—which were still causing heads to roll among those energy executives appointed to EPA–the oligarchy held on, wampum ruled, and new snakes were already lapping up the gravy: she was tired of it.


That very tiresomeness was the subject of conversation as she rolled uptown with her poet friend Helena in an Uber ordered by MoMA.  They were en route to a fancy party—hosted by a fabulously wealthy trustee lady—for donors, mostly billionaires, but with a sprinkling of artists (of which her poet was one, and a very famous one) on hand to entertain them. But for the moment, lolling in the huge backseat of the black SUV, they were happily raking the current president— “what’s awful is his horrible little pig eyes” —over the coals. But then Helena brought up a case about to be heard by the Supreme Court, and their decision would most likely gut public-sector unions, so there’d be no more unions for garbage collectors, teachers, policemen, social workers, and the laughter was gone.  “Oy,” groaned Bad Kitty.


The brand-new building was one of the super-high skinny skyscrapers, but despite its sweeping views, it felt oddly low-ceilinged, which Bad Kitty felt was an insult to the art.  All the art.  The hoarded, layered art everywhere–stacked, or on the mantles lined up over each other, along the baseboards, on the walls frame to frame, and in one jam-packed room the Dan Flavin piece, too tightly pressed into a Corner, couldn’t make much watery neon pink light fall over all the other artworks.  Some decorator, riffing on Aladdin’s cave and the Collier brothers, had added that daring touch of warehouse.  Hundreds and hundreds of artworks met her eyes.

Enough is enough, decided Bad Kitty—irritated by the absence of any such maxim in her hostess’s life.

She suddenly felt as sore as a cat with a shaved head: as if all the glossy rich people weren’t enough, there were the fawning publicists, most especially the one assigned to Helena; he rushed up, young, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed, and briefed Helena on how long she should read and where she should stand (at the grand piano in the enormous living room with its windows to the East River and the glittering bridges). His economical little movements were too quick, he made Bad Kitty nervous, and particularly his eyes, overlarge behind his glasses, with their bright round look, irritated her; he set her on edge, and she resented that.  She began to take steps against him, steering Helena’s attention toward a tray of canapés being offered their little trio and away from this bright young squirrel.  And then she got Helena away from him altogether by veering off to intercept a waiter passing with a tray of champagne glasses.

She watched the rich donors, preening around, their skin taut, pulled up here and fattened up a bit there, as they did their strange dance—the women bending at the waist to get in kiss-kiss proximity and bobbing about like infatuated hummingbirds, oddly magnetized by their exchanges of sweet nothings, while their men were arching back and slowly puffing their chests just a bit.  Watching them, Bad Kitty felt as if two separate musical scores were being played, which also got on her nerves, and which she also resented, though the rich people—deeply satisfied with their dances, and with their filthy riches, and with all this art, piled high up around them—were as happily at home in hoggery as actual pigs are in mud: this was their natural element.

Not wanting to be poor company, Bad Kitty tried to hide her evil feelings from her friend, who was old, prickly, and usually herself quite comfortable being as cranky as she liked, but instead, here Helena was, sailing through the room and squeaking in delight over this and that painting or collage or sculpture (and knowing all the artists’ names and often enough the artists themselves).

What irritated Bad Kitty further was the shiny cohort of professional mirror-holding rich-people handlers, the beautiful young junior curators and fundraisers who—boys and girls alike—could just as well have been models.  In fact, except for her friend, Bad Kitty was conceiving a hatred for everyone at this party, until she heard one journalist, a very funny big older queen, who’d been pursing his lips over the eight Jackie O Warhols lining the large salon into which they were being herded, remark, “Why not an even dozen, I wonder…”

Her poet read beautifully—and the little crowd struck imbibing attitudes at first, as if to drink in pure poesy, grouped in loose rings around the grand piano (the room’s focus, she could just hear that decorator intoning), but after the first two minutes the listeners were obviously letting their minds wander: they had been better at looking alert during the welcoming words read by their hostess, whose introduction, evoking Sappho and Emily Dickinson, had clearly been the work of the demurely smiling slender high-heeled blond publicist standing off to the side.

She hoped Helena would go on for an hour—let the squirming begin! Let the poor little rich people endure, but then the poet wrapped up.

Relief was palpable, glasses were empty.  Canapés and fresh drinks appeared along with compliments for the reading and admiration too for the view and for the Warhols, the Rothko, the Lichtensteins…

Then the hostess kittenishly offered a personal tour, so they joined its straggly end, with Bad Kitty bringing up the rear, following Helena and the gay and witty journalist, through room after room stuffed with art.

There was no enough and there was no end.  With a sort of hang-over wisdom, Bad Kitty knew that though humanity always wanted more, in the end, often people wished for less. Okay true enough, but here less hadn’t ever been in the running.

Eventually the hostess was called back to the front of the apartment where some of her fellow trustees were ready to leave. Soon the journalist queen, who was now busy gossiping with Helena about artists and collectors, were on their own with Bad Kitty, spending time in each room; in a guest bedroom’s bathroom they were exclaiming happily about the small Walter De Maria sculpture when Bad Kitty’s eye fell on a beautiful, small glossy Paul Klee oil painting with deep blues and greens lit up by gold, hung just above the toilet paper roll and her irritation boiled into wrath.

The nerve.

A few minutes later she spotted (tucked behind a huge Seydou Keita signed photograph of three gorgeous Malian fops) a small Ray Johnson mail art piece. She loved Ray Johnson and her heart went out to the modesty of it.  Loitering as the other two crossed into the next room, she plucked it up and slipped it in her bag.  She felt better immediately, and catching up with the other two, made friendly remarks and now drifted along contentedly, until Helena motioned toward the front of the apartment and escape.

Helena however was detained by her new friend, who was cackling away at some tale he was telling, so Bad Kitty snagged another flute of bubbly and cooled her heels beside three Joseph Cornell boxes and a standing green Giacometti.

At last Helena was at her elbow and, after quickly thanking their hostess, they were safely on the elevator: Bad Kitty’s shoulders dropped down and she grinned at her own face fuzzy in the aluminum mirror of the doors sliding closed when suddenly a hand was thrust in and a tenor voice called out, “No, stop!  Wait!”

The doors opened and Bad Kitty wasn’t breathing.

But there stood squirrel-boy, bright and chipper: “You forgot your gift bags!”

Inside the bag was a deluxe catalog of the hostess’s collection, which they made faces over as the elevator went down eighty floors without a sound.

Hailing a cab, Bad Kitty enjoyed remarking that MoMA apparently believed Ubers delivering famous people to their parties were a one-way affair.  And on their way downtown, the poet sighed over the whole dog-and-pony show for the donor class, but sighed more deeply over all that art, saying: “She can’t help it, but she’s vulgar” and Bad Kitty agreed, though she allowed that the lady probably meant well, saying “it’s only that she’s driven by irresistible urges: not just for hoarding art but think what she spends on Botox…”

When she got home, she took out her toolbox and hung the Ray Johnson in her bedroom. And then she was just picking up her book, about the rise of the billionaire right, which her sister had sent her, Dark Money, when she set it down again and reached for the posh private collection catalog.  She leafed through it slowly but saw no mention of Ray Johnson.