Yesterday evening Simon and I were out for dinner with our friends, Rob and Tessa. We were in London Soho at this very cool underground Mexican restaurant which, from the outside looks like a seedy sex shop. At street level there are signs with “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS” in flashing neon lights. You walk into a very cramped, blood-red vestibule and are greeted by two good-looking gay hosts in outlandish costume standing at a glass counter. Behind them is a mannequin donning a leather S&M outfit and carrying hand-cuffs. Directly across from that counter and to the right of the entrance is an even tinier coat-check. This is manned by a third attendant who was obviously hired for her good looks.
To confirm that you’re “in the know” the hot staff ask if you have a reservation. Once you’ve done the requisite flirting with the hosts, you’re escorted downstairs to a very typical looking bar and dining area and any anxiety you may have had about the place being of questionable moral character is assuaged because you are very quickly absorbed with the simple business of being out for dinner.
It was our third time there so we knew from experience that this was not a hedonistic den of pleasure. I was amused and astonished that the staff recognized me from the last time. The first host threw up his hands in dramatically artificial joy and upon seeing me squealed, “OMG! It’s you! It’s been too long, Honey!”
The second host in bright red trousers and a slicked-back baby ponytail smack-dab on the top of his handsome head suddenly appeared from downstairs, rushed over and said, “What is that doing zipped up all the way to the top, Baby!”
In a flash and with a flick of the wrist, he’d unzipped the neck of my plum-dyed leather dress down about 6 inches and stepped back to admire his work.
My husband and I laughed and I zipped my dress back up as we descended the stairs to the “grotto” to meet our friends who had arrived half an hour earlier and were waiting for us at the bar.
The atmosphere there is always excellent although for some reason last night the food was just mediocre. Before you go thinking, Dear Reader, that I’m writing a restaurant review, fear not. This is actually an essay on the perils of checking your coat.
Dinner was fine, fun and thankfully, uneventful. When we headed back upstairs, however, and handed in our coat check tags, one of the coats handed back to us – Tessa’s– was not, in fact, hers.
“No biggy,” we figured. The closet looked small enough.
On our first attempt, Tessa took the upper rack, I took the lower one. No luck.
Hot coat-check girl tried again. Also unsuccessful.
Tessa had everyone step out of the way and with determined purpose searched every coat hanger with the speed and agility of a professional shopper scanning the sales racks in January. (That said, most women I know are adept at this exercise.)
After about 6 minutes, Tessa re-emerged empty-handed but without any sign of resignation.
“Rob, you have to go in there. I can’t see it anywhere.”
Rob dove in and several minutes later, also re-appeared— still no coat.
Looking a bit flustered and nervous, he motioned for me to come over. “Catherine, you try again.”
Simon had already started questioning the staff about whether any previous clients might have mistakenly been given our friend’s coat. This was code for “Maybe you inadvertently allowed someone else to steal our friend’s property?”
I have no shame and given the fact that we had all previously searched both hanging rails, I got down on all fours in my short-skirted dress and crawled around on the icky floor of that dingy closet’s depths-of-hell.
Besides –I knew who the designer of that coat was and there was zero chance I was leaving it behind. I once wrote an essay about never leaving your wingman. Well, same things applies to my wingmen’s clothing:
“Nevuh evuh”… leave your wingman’s wardrobe behind either! Especially if it’s designer.
I’m pleased to announce that I crawled out of that vile snakepit victorious!! (Imagine the “Vinchero!!!” verse of Nessun Dorma playing in the background). Tessa’s dove-grey coat had fallen off its hanger and was resting forlornly on a half-shelf about a foot off the ground. Smiles, cheers and audible sighs of relief all around—mostly from the staff itself.
The thing is, if a client (me) has the sort of “devil-may-care” personality that shuns all public opinion and allows her to get on all fours, short leather skirt and bum in the air, in search of a coat in a closet of a (probably formerly active) seedy sex shop that’s seen, in all likelihood, all sorts of depraved and lascivious things I can’t bring myself to visualize– imagine the potential fury that might have been unleashed by that very same personality (mine) if that same coat were, say, lost on their watch.
“Hell hath no fury… like a woman who has lost her cashmere coat.”
I smile wryly as I compose this because I know I come across as inch-high shallow and superficial. Oh well. I’m forty-two and just know and accept that people will think what they’ll want to think about me — regardless if I write about cashmere or charity work. As I saw on a FB posting earlier today, “What other people think of you is none of your business.”
And speaking of business, here, finally, is my original tale of caution regarding the very serious matter of coat checks….
Manhattan, February 2010
It was the coldest darkest part of winter—early February to be exact and one of my very closest girlfriends, “T” hosted a fabulous 40th birthday at a nightclub in Manhattan. As 40th birthday parties go, it was a pretty big to-do: eighty of T’s friends and indeed, the best reason ever for me to return to NY for a weekend.
We partied late into the night—until the venue itself (49Grove in the West Village) transitioned from private party to a full-blown night club. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” had just been released so we belted out that song from the dance-floor – like…well…parents (!) who had escaped from their offspring for an evening and were allowing themselves a roaringly good time with neither apology nor excuse.
Truly – there is nothing more loud and obnoxious than 40 somethings getting their party on.
One of our girls, “G” had been particularly “enthusiastic” about celebrating T’s birthday – so much so that when she emerged from the ladies room (post dancing and whatnot), she promptly lay down and fell asleep on a nearby banquette. This whatnot is exactly the sort of behavior that attracts the management’s attention – and leads them to inquire as to whether our group of girls “might be more comfortable at home.” They were even so kind as to offer the service of “escorting” us out. Ahem…
We (six of T’s closest friends and the ones who had actually planned the whole gig with her over the past several months) clumsily fished through purses for our coat-check tickets and then dutifully ascended the stairs — now noticeably “less- than-sparkly” in our sequined cocktail dresses, painful stilettos and what was left of lipstick that hadn’t been transferred onto the edges of martini glasses. G was actually carried up the stairs by several bouncers—naturally because she was so… ummm… “sleepy.” Our collective sorry state did not go amiss as we passed the long queue of much younger club goers who tut-tutted our inability to conduct ourselves responsibly in public.
After my girlfriends and I were “gently placed” on the curb in the sub-zero temperatures of that memorably fabulous February night, G opened her eyes, looked down at the coat that had been draped over her shoulders and muttered sleepily, “This isn’t my coat.”
“What do you mean that isn’t your coat?!” I shot back, annoyed that it was taking so long for us to flag down a cab. “It was handed to us with the ticket we took out of your purse. Of course it’s your coat!”
“As bad as I am, I can still recognize my coat, Catherine!” G hissed back at me. “I had a black tuxedo-style Calvin Klein.”
“I’ll get it,” offered “E”—our ever-cheerful and optimistic (even at 2 am!) girlfriend.
We all stood outside freezing while we waited for E — having to let cab after cab crunch past us in the snow. Finally after what felt like twenty minutes, she re-appeared with the correct outerwear. I took the offending coat off K’s person, handed it to “M” and said, “Here. Take this one back downstairs.”
M was less than thrilled. (I’m kinda bossy too. No one is ever thrilled with my bossiness). Like the rest of us she just wanted to get to the warmth of the hotel in SOHO we’d reserved for that weekend.
“Well what the hell I am supposed to do with it?” she kvetched loudly.
“Look, just take it back. Hell, shove it under a bloody bar stool for all I care! Just hurry up already!!” I barked back.
That’s the thing about close girlfriends at 2am post partying— all sorts of normally inexcusable behavior and back-talk becomes par for the course.
“Wait. Where’s T?” asked my friend “K” who was by now shaking miserably as we stood there on the icy sidewalk. More collective impatient sighs all around.
By now my feet and hands were completely numb. As if on cue, T called me on the cell to urge us to go ahead. She was settling the bill but said she would meet us back at the hotel. Finally! We could leave!! We climbed into a cab and took longer-than-necessary getting to the hotel (we had to make a few “pit-stops” along the way.)
The hotel in SOHO was also very, very chic. I remember that when I stood there at front desk, the lounge area was packed with partiers who were not-quite-done going at full-throttle. I had to shout to do the check-in. Beside me stood an incredibly skinny (almost skeletal) tall guy with long, dark hair pulled back in a messy pony tail. He spoke in a distinguishably British accent. Russell Brand.
Our group managed to find the only table left in the lounge area and M, our resident comedian proceeded to do her thing — a loud and very funny stand-up routine of the evenings highlights—from falling into the street and scraping her leg– to the antics of sweet and cheerful E as she’d made her way from the club back to the hotel.
It was getting quite late/very early now and T still hadn’t arrived from the club. I called her.
“Where the hell are you?!” I shouted above the din of both the hotel lounge AND the club crowd on the other end.
“They can’t find my f—king coat!!” she screamed over the phone. “I swear I will kill someone if they don’t turn up with it soon! I am not leaving without it!”
Her husband had bought it for her birthday the year before – a ¾ length cashmere number from some big name designer.
M continued to entertain us (and the neighboring tables). Buoyed by her increasing popularity, M grew louder and more animated in her anecdotes.
Finally (!!) about an hour later T showed up looking down-right worn-out, fed-up and pissed off.
“I threatened and shouted at every single staff member there until they found my coat!” she announced loudly to not only our group, but to the rest of M’s audience in the lounge. “Honestly, after all the time and money that we put into this party, the least they could have done was look after my things!” she finished with complete exasperation.
“H” who had spent most of her evening in stitches over everyone else’s follies, cut T off. T wasn’t quite done spewing her criticisms of the clubs useless staff.
“Well where did they find it in the end?” H asked as we all looked on with wide eyes and now extreme curiosity.
“Okay girls you are not even going to believe this!!” T lowered her voice for effect.
“My coat was under a g-d damned bar stool!!!!”
We all looked at each other – each of us just sober enough to recall my specific instructions to M to get rid of the coat that was evidently not K’s. So THAT’s why it was linked to K’s coat-check tag!! Makes all the sense in the world now!
Silence all around…until I gasped in horror and dismay at what I hope came across as the equivalent level of T’s anger and disbelief and suddenly the words, “What pigs! How DARE they!!” fell from my mouth.
And since all good things must come to an end, I thought it best to call it a night (and save confessions for the next day).
Moral of the story? Whenever possible, don’t bother with coat check. Really, just don’t.