by Nicole Crews
Me: Hey, I’m going to Chicago for a few days with D to see her parents.
Mother: What’s wrong?
Me: Nothing really. We’ve both just had a tough year and could use a little girl time — and out-of-town time.
Mother: Poor things. Did your tiaras get tilted?
Me: Yeah. Mine’s paste though. Hers is Harry Winston.
Mother: Doesn’t matter. Throws you off balance either way.
When I went to boarding school my bed rested crossways along a concrete wall covered in hideous wallpaper that elicited terrible dreams. During my tossings I would smack my head against the wall nightly. After nearly concussing myself I began to placing my palm against said wall to prevent brain damage. The habit stuck.
Scene: USAir non-stop flight from Charlotte-Douglas to Chicago-O’Hare. And much to D’s chagrin, coach.
D: Nicole. Wake up! You are saluting the Third Reich in your sleep.
Me: Are you offended because you are Jewish or jealous of my somnolent muscle control?
D: I just want to sleep and it looks like you are flagging down a flight attendant.
Me: Sting does yoga when he flies and nobody bothers him.
D: Yeah but he flies private. Or in first class. And he’s Sting! Here, eat your fig bar.
Me (staring at package): D, when you said fig bar I didn’t think you meant a cookie that you give little kids to poop.
Captain: Ladies and Gentlemen, the descent has begun.
D: Has it ever.
Wheels down in the Windy City and we’ve managed to make it to the median to await our town car. D is wearing what she refers to as her “Where the Wild Things Are” toothy heels and a knee-length dress smattered with van Gogh’s Irises that make her look like a flight attendant for Tahitian Air. I’m in TSA-friendly flats, a black-and-white suit and pearls. We’ve got a hot date with D’s mother whose daily pilgrimage to Nieman Marcus is both legendary and possibly responsible for sustaining greater metropolitan Chicago’s retail economy.
Me: Are we going straight to Nieman’s?
D: No, we’re going to the house first. I need a bloody.
Me: I can’t believe you didn’t have our driver ready one for you.
D: Wait until you meet mom’s driver Omar. He has a jacket that when he opens it there are bloodies on one side and white wine on the other.
Me: I like the way your mother rolls. Am I staying in the Marilyn Room — my old room?
D: No. She converted that into a jewelry room.
Me: Hey, gimme a blanket and a pillow and I’m there.
D: I don’t think you’d pass the security check.
Enter Chicago’s leafy, luxurious Lake Forest, where the manses are as stately and reserved as the Ivy League, the residents as shiny and buffed as the luxury vehicles parked there and the polo legendary. Enter D’s gated drive and you have time to check your email before arriving at the classic, 1895 greystone manor. Glide across the Oriental rug under the portico, step inside and after you’ve recovered from the brain popping ribbit of the green plastic frog and the Madame Tussauds faux security guard greeting you, prepare for a leap of interior décor faith worthy of “Star Trek” transport proportions.
Vegas-style black carpeting with Joan Miro splashes of primary colors zip and zing to envelop the voluminous entryway where gold statuary, modernist sculpture and paintings, and black upholstery accented with red, yellow and green stripes collide with neutral, adjacent rooms. It’s as if a Rastafarian interior decorator was given carte blanche — yet, somehow, it’s fabulous.
Step over the Lucite doggie gate to the bar where D’s demi-glamazon mother V greets you with a bloody in a baby blue silk pantsuit, matching lace corset and Swarovski crystal chandelier earrings, heels and a confection of long, blonde tresses. We’ve been there five minutes when I notice the infamous, oversized martini glass filled with diet pills.
Me: I’ll never forget what you told me when I asked you how you kept your figure.
V: What was that?
Me: “I only eat on weekends.” It took me years, but I totally get it!
D: Ugh. I gained 10 pounds in Italy this summer
Me: You didn’t do Italy right if you didn’t gain 10 pounds. Now I want to know your skin secrets V.
V: You girls don’t need them yet. And by the time you do, they will have figured out something better.
Me: Words to live by.
We’re a tad late for opening bell at Nieman’s as the Phantom rolls up to the glass entryway. Omar doesn’t miss a beat as we stroll past the Laboutins, Choos and Pour la Victoires and hands us each a glass of wine. I say wistful hellos to my old friends Marni, Herve, Stella, Carolina and Alexander and then bid woeful goodbyes to them with my credit cards still intact. After lunch, it’s nap time for the ladies who do that sort of thing because, after all, we have to be coiffed and fresh for cocktail hour at five.
D: I’m so excited. My high school crew is coming over. Including Angus.
Me: Angus is always on the menu when I come to Chicago. It’s a city known for its meat.
D: Yeah, but you’re used to medium. This Angus is rare.
D’s selection of prime cuts does not disappoint and a fine time is had by all during V’s cocktail hour and dinner at a local inn. Our flight home is early the next morning so after nightcaps with the kids by the pool, and additional nightcaps at the bar, and perhaps one more for good measure, we tuck in.
Scene: TSA security checkpoint at Chicago-O’Hare.
Me (cold compress on my forehead and Diet Coke in fist): Wow. I hate to admit defeat, but I don’t think I can hang with you and your mom.
D: Can you imagine if we’d stayed longer?
Me: This is a new milestone in our relationship D.
TSA Agent (eyeballing D’s bag): May’am, what’s in your bag?
D: A Carolina Herrera dress and 7 pounds of pastrami and corned beef.
TSA Agent: Aw, okay.
Me: Wow. This town really is all about the meat.