Learning about Andy Warhol, hedgehogs and eating 'chokes'
The memorable evening began on my date with an older, sophisticated New Yorker named Martin, in an elegant small French restaurant on a side street in New York. He ordered artichokes for each of us.
My mother hated artichokes, so I had never eaten one, but after watching Martin and the other couple at the table pick off and scrape the leaves on their teeth, I casually did the same. I had considered myself rather worldly before moving to New York, but I had found out there was still much to learn. This sophistication thing seemed easy, though; just watch and imitate others as my mother had told me to do when confronted with unusual food or too many pieces of silverware next to my plate.
As the other three chatted, I plucked and scraped, working my way to the inside of the artichoke more quickly than the others. Trying to eat the furry part in the center was rather unpleasant, however, what I thought it must be like to eat a hedgehog, had I ever wanted to. As the fuzzy parts stuck out of my mouth, the French waiter kindly leaned over and quietly said, "Would mademoiselle like me to remove the 'choke'?" Martin looked over in amusement, patted my arm and said, "No dear, we don't eat the choke." Oh. I picked the fuzzies out of my mouth, my face red, as the waiter removed the rest of the "hedgehog" from the artichoke.
After dinner, we went to Sotheby's, the very posh New York auction house where Martin was selling some of his original Andy Warhol art that evening at an art auction. I knew to sit very quietly lest I be taken for a bidder, so I quietly observed the elegant crowd in the room and attempted to look as though I was there to consider buying something terribly expensive. When our friends entered the bidding room during the auction of a large oil painting, I subtly (I thought) raised my hand slightly to show them where we were sitting, only to hear the auctioneer say "$3,000 to the young lady." He was looking at me. Martin quietly groaned, while I frantically calculated in my head how much I could borrow from my parents, the cash in my savings and what to sell to reach that amount. I absolutely was not going to publicly humiliate myself by signaling that I hadn't intended to bid; I would buy the ugly thing if I had to. Fortunately, the auctioneer apparently saw the open-mouthed dismay on my face and kept the bidding open until, finally, I was outbid, to Martin's and my great relief.
After Martin's Warhols were sold, we went nearby to a quiet, dark elegant hotel lounge to recover with a glass of wine. After a few minutes, Martin leaned across and quietly said that Jackie Kennedy was sitting in a chair right behind me, with her back to us. This was around 1970, when she had not yet married Aristotle Onassis after being widowed, and was rumored to be dating New York's most eligible men, one of whom was with her that night. I was determined to take back his identity to friends the next day, so I casually glanced over my shoulder. She sat as only a product of a girl's finishing school would sit: ramrod straight, her back never touching the chair. Her thick black hair I noticed was a bit frizzy. Oh good, a tidbit of interesting information to report to friends.
But her voice was so soft that I couldn't hear what she was saying, so I inched over on my armless chair seat to listen more closely. Even after sliding a few more inches over, I still couldn't hear her conversation. My rear was hanging half off the chair when to my dismay the chair began to tip. I was about to ignominiously crash over onto Jackie Kennedy's feet.
Visions of Secret Service men hauling me off to jail flashed through my mind, as I assumed they were lurking somewhere in the shadows. At the least, I would add another embarrassment to what was already a disaster of a date, but it was too late, I was on my way over.
At the last minute, Martin pushed the chair down, I slid back on, and Jackie never even turned around. We quickly finished our drinks, Martin took me home in a taxi, and with all the dignity I could muster, I thanked him for an interesting evening.
To my relief, he never called again. But I did acquire a taste for artichokes that night, and learned to remove the hedgehog myself. I'm just thankful that night was in the era before camera phones.
Peggy Keonjian is a member of the Jottings group of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.