BOARD OUT OF THEIR MIND
Tom Ford comes through! He gets me an interview with the board of the Hoover Pressley Museum. I pull out the arsenal and select five key members to invite for a Sunday brunch at my home. This killer view overlooking Central Park should count for something, right? I hire SWEET BASIL to cater and spend several nights soaking up the museum’s history online. Desi is on various boards around town and he gives me an idea of what to expect. “You know they’re choking on your past, darling. So be honest about it. The drugs. The booze. The scandals. I mean, every nasty little thing you did for twenty years was splashed across the front page of gossip rags all over the world. So own it.”
Winona is wearing Oscar de la Renta
Brunch is served! Slices of brioche french toast, with glazed apples, are an inch thick. The poached salmon is moist and juicy. Everything is presented with great panache and every dish is to die. While the bellinis flow, to loosen things up, I work in a few shady celebrity stories, just to wet their panties a little. On my left, Mazie Porter stops giggling long enough to shove a forkful of pork tenderloin into her face. She finally asks, “So Winona, what can you bring to our little museum?” I become Humble Hannah, oh so grateful for the opportunity to travel the world and make such rich and valuable connections. But Desi said not to, so I don’t gloss over the ugly shit. Each trip I took to rehab made the cover of the National Enquirer. It wasn’t cute. But Dr. Ing and Atty. Livingston are nodding as I tell my story. I think they get it.
My formal interview with the entire board takes place at the museum. It’s a tough crowd of twelve and they ask questions I’d normally never answer. But today I do and it feels good to be this honest. When it’s all over, I walk out of their finely paneled conference room confident of my acceptance. I think they might be ready for me. The next day my staff, Marc, Terri and Curtiss, launch a social media campaign. “LET’S GET WINONA ON THE BOARD!” They upload some of my greatest hits, iconic shots of me from back in the day, and within hours the campaign grows legs. Phones are ringing. Calls are coming in from HUFFPOST, PAGE SIX, ESSENCE, FORBES. They all want a statement.
Winona is wearing Ralph Lauren
I contact my girl MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS to work the media. She can go places where my staff just can’t. “Forget about a press release,” she says. “Let’s do an interview!” They don’t call her an image activist for nothing. We shape my statement and agree that taking a full-out knee might not be necessary but how lame would it be NOT to mention my unique spot as potentially the first African-American on the museum board? When the interview hits a few days later, it’s all anyone’s talking about. Marc, in the meantime, is very strategic with his online photo selections. Mick, Ralph, Andre Leon, Anna. But the shot of me from way back, sharing ciggies with Hollywood legend Bette Davis is his favorite. “Those dusty old board queens will collapse when they see this,” he says.
Friends like Tracee, Will, Naomi and SJP come through with hearts, likes and kudos on Twitter and IG. The museum is getting loads of pub, too. They’ve got to be loving that! Marc comes into my office. He’s got something to show me. My ex, Riccardo Sims has posted a shot of us on Instagram from the MET GALA years ago. He’s tagged both the agency and the museum board. “You’ll never find a brighter gem for your crown,” he writes. Wow. How sweet is that? I haven’t seen this shot in years. Look at him. Smooth as silk. Naturally swaggy. And we were so gorgeous together. Scratching my head, I can’t remember what went wrong between us. How did we go off the rails?
My curiosity won’t let me rest. I call Riccardo. And just his hello gives me feels. I thank him for the post on Instagram and ask what he’s been up to. No longer at ATLANTIC RECORDS, he writes fiction now. Fiction? “Under a pseudonym,” he adds. I roll my eyes. But swearing me to secrecy, he confesses. “I’m Roman Carlucci,” and I gasp, choking on cookie crumbs. He’s laughing. “Are you okay?” But I don’t—I can’t—believe my ears! How can a gracious man like Riccardo Sims conger up such a tale? His novel SHOOTING STAR was vicious and foul and one of last years’ most popular reads. About a pop singer with secrets, it stayed on the TIMES best-seller list for twelve whole weeks! “Have dinner with me tomorrow night”, he asks. Well I have plans…but they are so cancelled.
The traffic on 5th and 31st is at a standstill. I’m twenty minutes late. I abandon the towncar finally and walk the last block and a half to the restaurant HENRY, where Riccardo is waiting. My heart is jumping around in my chest as the maître d’ leads the way to his table. Riccardo stands. Still rocking a suit better than any man I know, his head is bald and his beard is big and bushy. And silvery white. I hardly recognize him. He kisses my cheek. My knees go weak, just like the night we first met at that dumpy club downtown. The tip of his nose brushes along my jaw and earlobe. I feel him inhale, breathing me in.
Riccardo is wearing Cifonelli
We chatter all through dinner. There’s so much to talk about. Afterwards, hopping into a taxi, we head uptown. Sitting close in the back seat, he takes my hand and presses it to his chest. “I’m so glad you called me,” he says. “I think about you often.” We pull up to the COVE LOUNGE on Lenox Avenue in Harlem and take an empty table towards the rear, away from the small pockets of latenighters scattered around. When Riccardo leans in to kiss me, his lips are warm and his beard soft. Oh yes. This is going to happen. He drops two twenties on the table, we leave the club and with our arms wrapped around each other, we walk the few blocks to his brownstone on 128th Street.
One month after the brunch, a letter from the museum arrives. Federal Express. This is it. In the study I pour a victory goblet of wine, open the envelope, unfold the page and — “Dear Ms. Warner…We regret to inform you…”—wait. What’s this? I’ve been rejected?? They’re turning me down!!? Angry tears are this close to spilling over. How. Dare. They? My detective friend, the one I keep on retainer, has collected the goods on several of their upstanding board members. Fat manila folders on my desk are stuffed with arrest reports, mug shots, affidavits. There’s domestic abuse, prescription drugs, insider trading, statutory rape. And everything kept on the hush-hush with payoffs and bribes. But they’re rejecting me? Oh! I could have their asses for breakfast. One by one. But…
There’s Riccardo. Lying in my arms just last night, he reminded me of what derailed us the first time. How did I forget? Traveling a lot for the record company back then, for a long time he only knew Central Park West Winona. It was a while before he got a good whiff of South Bronx Winona and he didn’t like her much. “I’m not lining up with a bunch of other suckers for you to grind into the dust,” he said. “If you’re still out here collecting scalps, tell me now.” With a sigh, I file everything away inside the desk drawer. A man like Riccardo you don’t throw away twice. Yep. I’ve decided to ride the monogamy train. Let’s see where it takes us. But if things get derailed again between him and me, for any reason, those muthafuckas on the museum board? They will be the FIRST to know!