High Society: Facing One’s Nemesis
I accepted an invitation to a nighttime soirée recently. I am invited out often: to society happenings, to the opera or symphony, to prep school reunions, and to the occasional political event. But this event seized my interest. It was a celebration of that special something — the spring in my step, the spark in my eye, the very collagen in my bones — yes, my hosts are too in the business of enjoying cannabis.
Though I rarely leave the seven-by-seven, I agreed to appear at a private home in the East Bay hills. Preparations began in earnest well in advance. I needed to make my mark on these provincial types from the first glimpse. This begins with the sartorial sense. I began laying out clothing and establishing a workflow for pairings — jackets, accent handkerchiefs, stockings, all of it — around 10 o’clock with my morning edibles. As I pondered my ensemble, I rolled a joint over an array of neckties, and arrived in Piedmont, all flecks of kief brushed off my clothes and saved for later, a little before 7 p.m.
I was assured that there would be ample marijuana available at the party, but that could not keep me from loading up several joints, vaporizers, and emergency sublingual mouth sprays. The primary challenge here is to keep the bulk of these materials from ruining the hang of one’s suit.
I must say, the people were nice. Mixing easily, I chatted with dispensary owners, industry advocates, and even the low types — the journalists — whom I must now call colleagues. A young lady handed out joints, and for once, the entire gathering was properly lubricated — yes, friends, alcohol was nowhere to be found. The party proceeded in a kind manner, without shouting and other loudness, unless we consider the clothing of the more plebian attendees.
In fact, the fashion sensibilities among this set nearly brought me down from my carefully curated high. Many wore clothing promoting their business or their dispensary — this I can almost understand. Some had a passable jacket and smart shoes only to ruin it with jeans. (I have a pair myself — for walking to the corner store before noon or for venturing into the wilderness in, say, Sonoma County.)
A handful of the women showed class and flair. The men were an absolute disaster. All except for him.
It had been years, but I would know him anywhere: It was Alastair Prebble, my former prep schoolmate, my onetime collaborator, my now and forever mortal enemy. There is no word for him but nemesis, a Moriarty to my Holmes, a Nixon to my JFK, a Sauron to my Gandalf.
My first thought was relief for the time spent picking my suit. Had I been careless, he would have destroyed me at first glance. As it is, I had underestimated and eschewed a hat, so when my eyes caught his, the pit of my stomach fell. He somehow pulled off a Sinatra-style pork-pie with what appeared to be a mint condition Rat Pack-era pinstripe suit.
“Get high with Zürcher recently, Hightower?”
I expected this; he opened with it time and again. Zürcher was an Austrian prince who had visited Stanford. I wanted to impress him with a very special bag of true Hindu Kush, cultivated by a guru grower who only speaks once every decade. Prebble had managed to replace this fabled stash with oregano. I was forced me to stand for a State Department grilling — and a talking to from Father.
“Yes, actually. Dated his sister last year,” I said. “Had a week of skiing together, in Austria, the four of us, with the Brazilian model — what was her name? One sees it in the tabloids. Had nothing but laughs. He didn’t ask after you, though.”
This was utter bunk, but I saw his eyes narrow just enough to know I had scored.
He became thoughtful and stepped closer to me — to apologize, I thought, even to end our feud.
“Duncan …” he began.
“I knew you’d be here tonight.”
“And how’s that?”
“I’ve a line on your housekeeper, of course, have had for years,” he said. “But never mind that. I’m going to outscore you tonight, outscore you rather badly, but you don’t know it yet. What I’m going to do is hack into the server of your miserable publication and take over editorial control of the piece you’re writing about this event.”
I laughed, though I did go a bit cold. “And how will you accomplish that?”
“Never mind the how,” he said, lowering his broad forehead at me. “As a matter of fact, I will take over your article at the precise moment in the narrative when I speak these very words.”
“You are quite handsome,” I said, “and I’ve always known you for my better.”
“Well, it’s good of you to admit that,” Prebble said.
I shrugged. “While I’m at it, I suppose I should say that we Hightowers are of rather newer money than we like to pretend.”
“There’s no shame in it. Please, don’t cry.”
“Well, thank you for saying so,” I said, reaching for my soiled handkerchief. “I take such pride in building a wonderful day-long high and wearing the best clothes, but here in your presence, I feel that my high is rather pedestrian, and my suit, while acceptable, is uninspired.”
I then explained at length how Mayor Ed Lee is merely a front for the Willie Brown Machine, a puppet bought and paid for by tech companies like Uber and Airbnb — essentially, that Brown was still mayor and it was all a sham foisted upon our city by downtown wealth.
“Well, feel free to say that in this crowd,” Prebble said, “but don’t let your father hear of it.”
I thanked him for his wise advice and left by the back entrance, noticing only after riding some miles in my cheap taxi that my fly had been wide open all night, revealing off-color Hanes Y-fronts. It was still early, and I just knew there was a football game that night, so I was deposited directly outside Aces Bar in the Tenderloin. I roared at the television through the third and fourth quarters of the game, consuming six tall boy cans of Budweiser, and at least three drinks made with peach-flavored vodka. One screaming argument about a fine point of NFL rules later, I headed for the door, vomited on the threshold, and barely made it home.