An Object of Beauty - By Steve Martin Page 0,1

A furniture show.”

The Guggenheim Museum is Frank Lloyd Wright’s questionable masterpiece that corkscrews into Fifth Avenue. Questionable because it forces every viewer to stand at a slant.

“ ‘The Italian Metamorphosis,’ ” I said. “I wrote about it. Too late to get into a magazine. What did you think?”

“I’d rather fuck an Italian than sit on his furniture,” she said.

“You didn’t like it?”

“I guess I was unclear. No.”

“How come?”

“Taste?” she said, then added, “Only one thing could have made it better.”

“What’s that?”

“Roller skates.”

Lacey talked on, oblivious to the salivations that her dress was causing. She had to know of its effect, but it was as though she’d put it on in the morning, calculated what it would do, then forgot about it as it cast its spell. Her eyes and attention never strayed from me, which was part of her style.

Lacey made men feel that she was interested only in that special, unique conflation of DNA that was you, and that at any moment she was, just because you were so fascinating, going to sleep with you. She would even take time to let one of your jokes sweep over her, as though she needed a moment to absorb its brilliance, then laugh with her face falling forward and give you a look of quizzical admiration, as if to say, “You are much more complicated and interesting than I ever supposed.”

“Come with me,” she said after coffee.

“Where to?”

“I’m buying a dress. I’m interviewing at Sotheby’s tomorrow and I have to look like a class act.”

The New York heat baked us till we found the inside of a moderately cooler downtown dress shop that featured recycled class-act clothing. Music blared as Lacey zeroed in on a dark blue tight skirt and matching jacket. She winced at the price, but it did not deter her. She pulled the curtain of the changing room, and I could hear the rustle of clothes. I pictured the skirt being pulled on and zipped up. She emerged wearing the jacket loosely opened, with nothing on underneath—which created a sideways cleavage—and started buttoning it up in front of the mirror, surveying herself. “I’ve got a blouse at home I can wear with this,” she muttered to me. She straightened up and pulled the barrette from her hair, causing the blond mix of yellows and browns to fall to her shoulders, and she instantly matured.

“They’re going to love you,” I said.

“They goddamn better because I’m broke. I’m down to seven thousand.”

“Last week you said you had three thousand.”

“Well, if I’ve got three, I’m fucked. So let’s call it seven.”

Lacey turned from the mirror for the first time and struck a pose in the preowned Donna Karan.

“You look great. A lot of people our age don’t know how to go in and apply for a job,” I said.

Lacey stared at me and said, “I don’t go in and apply for a job. I go in and get a job.”

And so Lacey joined the spice rack of girls at Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the two premier auction houses in New York, drew young, crisp talent from Harvard and its look-alikes. Majors in art history were welcomed over majors in art making, and pretty was preferred in either sex. The houses wanted the staff to look swell as they crisscrossed the busy galleries on exhibition days, holding in their arms files, faxes, and transparencies. Because the pay was low, the young staff was generally financed from home. Parents thought well of it because their children were at respectable firms, working in a glamorous business, with money of all nations charging the atmosphere. The auction houses seemed not as dull as their financial counterparts on Wall Street, where parents of daughters imagined glass ceilings and bottom patting. Sotheby’s was an institution that implied European accents and grand thoughts about art and aesthetics coexisting with old and new money in sharp suits and silk ties. This was a fresh and clean New York, where you dressed nicely every day and worked in a soaring, smoke-free, drugless architectural building filled with busts, bronzes, and billionaires. What the parents forgot about were the weekends and evenings when their children left the Cézannes and Matisses and crept underground, traveling back to shared downtown spaces where they did exactly the same things they would have done if they had joined a rock band.

Lacey’s first assignment was in the bins, cataloging and measuring nineteenth-century pictures in a dim basement that was largely unpopulated. Her Donna Karan was wasted on the