Book advance party
To celebrate HarperCollins picking up my memoir for a $250,000 advance, I invited some friends up to my loft in Dumbo. About fifty people turned up, and it seemed like it might become the stuff of legend. Bill Murray made whiskey sours in the kitchen. Morrissey sang his favorite Bowie songs while Frank Ocean accompanied him on the Steinway given to me as a college graduation gift by Billy Preston’s widow. It was late April, and it was just starting to get warm, but the evenings were still pleasant and positively electric with that spring energy — an aura of newness and possibility. Suddenly, cutting through “Life on Mars” and Fiona Apple teaching me dirty French limericks, was the unmistakable wail of a distressed turtle. My stomach sank faster than the oil tanker that I presume had something to do with why there was a turtle in my loft. As Morrissey predictably made haste to get to the turtle, he slipped on a trail of crude oil dripping off the turtle and all over the floor. I finally get a look at whose holding the seal, and of course it’s him.
Mark Trail. Animal lover. Environmental crusader. Toxin to social gatherings. He’s a childhood friend of my father, and he’s done many wonderful things for the planet, the animals, and my family (he’s my godfather, actually) but that doesn’t mean I want him at my parties.
“But what’s truly troubling are that weather patterns caused by deforestation and global warming,” Mark began, once he’d lured everyone’s attention with his clinically depressed, oil-covered terrapin, “will prove deadly for many species, such as harp seals, many varieties of wild fish, and turtles, like this fellow here.” Then, after wiping his oil-and-turtle-slime-covered hands on his red plaid shirt and jeans, he tried to get several models and a starlet just cast in a CW pilot to help him write “polite but sternly worded letters to the presidents of several land development companies.” He had no takers. Meanwhile, the damn turtle helped himself to the unattended snack table and ate the whole bowl of truffle pate, then threw up on Frank Ocean’s iPad. The prettiest and most interesting guests were gone less than 15 minutes later.
Beginning of summer party
I’m hosting a few friends who had no family plans on my family’s yacht near St. Tropez. James Murphy deejayed, spinning obscure Nigerian funk. Kate Upton made a house cocktail from my homemade bitters, imported absinthe, and whiskey they found in Ernest Hemingway’s hotel room the night he killed himself. Tom Wolfe was scheduled to arrive any moment via helicopter to read from the galleys of his newest novel.
Suddenly a man in a too-tight wetsuit heaved himself on board the main deck, carrying two terrified Komodo dragons and an electronic prodding device. Sofia Coppola shrieked in terror; Steve Martin frowned in disgust. The man quickly removed his mask and snorkel, and now all my guests know what I already knew: it’s Mark Trail, who somehow found us in the Caribbean, six miles offshore. While not letting go of the lizards or the prod, he wiggled of his wetsuit to reveal a red plaid shirt and jeans, like a nature-obsessed James Bond who didn’t understand social cues.
“Now then, who would like to learn about the mating habits of the Komodo dragon?” Mark asked, as he awkwardly forced the lizards to copulate in his arms, prodding their genitals with low-voltage electric shocks. All the while he delivered “interesting facts” about the creatures’ diet and habitat before seguing into a diatribe about how if these two lizards “don’t spawn tonight, their entire species might be snuffed out in as little as ten years, if the land developers who’ve bought up the Komodo Islands have their way.” At that point, Tom Wolfe’s helicopter touched down and all of my guests piled in. It took off as soon as it had arrived, with Wolfe never even getting out.
I spent the rest of the day — and night — alone at sea with Mark, who drank from a flask of homemade “eucalyptus gin” and sang Polynesian war hymns.
My wedding reception
Hitomi and I wanted a small ceremony, but my parents wanted a large one. We compromised with a private, family-only ceremony, and a huge reception at the Museum of Natural History. Of course, this also meant that my parents could invite whomever they liked, and of course they invited Mark Trail. However, I purposely timed the wedding so that it coincided with the migration of the pygmy sea cucumbers, which Mark never misses, especially since their breeding grounds are being ever more threatened by land developers. His invitation, sent to his last known address, a Greenpeace-owned shack in northeastern Madagascar, had been returned address unknown.
After the first dance and just before the cutting of the cake, Mark stumbled in in a filthy red plaid shirt and. From across the room I could already smell the animal feces and rotten seawater. But all I could hear was loud, collective female, “Awwwwwww.” That was to be expected, as Mark was holding an admittedly adorable baby harp seal. “Indeed he is a majestic creature,” he continued. “But this seal, and a million others just like him, are threatened due to a lack of food, land developers, and extremely contagious seal chlamydia.”
I grabbed Hitomi’s hand and instinctively headed for the nearest exit; this time I would lead the exodus out of my own party. And yet, we were alone. Not a soul had moved. Instead, all of our guests had formed a circle around Mark and the baby harp seal, whom he had named “Cheryl,” which, not coincidentally, was the name of Mark’s third and favorite wife.
They all listened intently to Mark as he described, in graphic detail, the epidemiology, major symptoms, and ineffective treatments of seal chlamydia. All had an expression of deep concern or worry on their faces. Joyce Carol Oates made a bit of an ass of herself, touching Mark’s arm and twirling her hair on her finger as she mentioned that she had just read an article in The Atlantic on this very subject, neglecting to remember that most in attendance had a thorough if not encyclopedic knowledge of The Atlantic.
As Mark started to suggest holistic treatments and insatiably lonely Norwegian sealing boat captains, Arthur Sulzberger leapt to his feet, dropping his monocle. “Something must be done!” he yelped. This simply cannot stand!”
“Are we not powerless? Is there some way to help?” implored Gwyneth Paltrow as Jay-Z sadly shook his head in disbelief.
I really had no choice at that point. I looked at Hitomi, and she knew exactly what I was thinking, and nodded her approval.
“While Hitomi and I appreciate the many fine gifts,” I began, “we will be returning them all in favor of a sizable contribution to the Seal Chlamydia Foundation.”
A heart “huzzah!” erupted from the crowd, as did a round of clasps on the back and an improvised “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” clearly directed more at Mark than at myself. They probably would have been carrying him on their shoulders, if not for the fact that he had slipped away unnoticed. I saw Mark at the doorway, who as he turned away, smiled and gave me a wink. It was a paternal gesture, a private communication of pride and acceptance, and for once I felt the respect for him that he does for animals covered in crude oil.
Hitomi and I were en route to JFK the next morning when I received a call from the museum director asking me if I knew the man who had “evidently spent the night here discussing global warming with the dinosaur skeletons.”