I wake up. I have no idea where I am.

I don’t care. I go back to sleep.

I get up to pee and hear voices. Before going back to bed, I go into my personal loggia. Below in the living room I hear Bill and René talking. They’re talking softly. I can’t make out what they’re saying. I’m naked, so decide not to step forward and lean over the balcony and announce, in some funny angelic voice from on high: Good morning.

Back in my room I sit down on the edge of the bed. And then I jump up again and pull open the curtains. Fucking A! There are the tops of blocks and the towers of Midtown. I can see the East River. I feel like René.

It is exciting. It is gorgeous. I can’t believe I’m in this room looking out over it all. At the same time, I feel what Bill feels. Of course, I’ve never lived here. But I’ve never wanted to live here. And I still don’t. Bill and I are on the same page there.

Are they down in the living room fully dressed or are they in their bathrobes? Have they gotten coffee? I still feel tired, but I know this is jetlag, and my watch tells me I’ve had plenty of sleep. So, so lucky not to have woken up after five hours or six, and not been able to get back to sleep. Grateful. In younger days, I had such jetlag. Nerve-taut, strung-out jetlag. Now, no more, so it seems.

I put on my bathrobe and go out onto my loggia. I decide to impersonate that angel. I’m looking down at them. I love their heads jerking up. René bursts out laughing. Bill grins. Both of them are also in their bathrobes. Neither look like they’ve had coffee or juice or anything.

“René has been dancing around the living room here, and I’ve been watching. Come down here, Rapunzel. I think we should order breakfast. Are we still Continentals? Or do we want American breakfasts? I rule out the Full English.”

“Whatever you guys want,” says René, sprawling on a couch, almost exposing it all. I vote for juice, coffee, preferably cappuccino, and then maybe Danish pastry, as a concession to being in New York.

“Right!” Bill stands bolt upright from the other couch. He pulls out his phone. He starts pacing. And then he’s ordering. I wonder why he felt the need to stand up? He hangs up. “Please, get thy ass down here. They claim they’ll be here in fifteen minutes.”

I do as told. I’m barefoot. I love descending this half spiral of a staircase. It’s carpeting feels nice underfoot. I appear at the entrance to the living room.

“You’re being very dramatic today, starting the day by announcing good morning from on high. Did you sleep okay?” I did, I say. “So did we.” I see René start giggling. Okay, they fooled around. Do I need to know this? I ask what time we’re being picked up for lunch. “I haven’t called Hany yet.” Bill looks at his watch. “It’s after nine now. Better do that. Are you sure you want to do this thing with him?” I admit a good lunch offered by a native is always a good start for the day, and I’d love to see how the “other half” lives. I say that before realizing Bill is now that “other half.” Boring. Am I going to have to remember not to reference his billionaire status?

“Well, that’s an ‘other half’ I don’t want to join. Why would I want to live here? So I can compete with other fucking billionaires?” He’s said ‘other’ and the B-word; I can relax. I watch René’s eyes pop. So, he hasn’t realized this? “Who the hell could still be living in Manhattan? People hanging onto their rent-stabilized apartments for dear life? We are the crazy gay kids, the artists living on the edge making the city wild and constantly changing? The young ones living here must all be fucking bankers.” I know the rant. I share the ethos of the rant. But then, Paris has also become crazy expensive, although there are still parts peopled by Alternatives. Though they may live on the periphery like Montrouge or Issy-les-Moulineaux. Frankly, I don’t know. This is not yet a Rotterdam problem.

I don’t voice any of this. Least of all, I don’t vaunt the fact that Rotterdam is still a city where everyone can afford a roof over their head and live their lives, their passions. No tempting Bill. I really don’t want him moving to my city.

And I still don’t know why.

Bill’s last question is still hanging in the air, “…compete with fucking billionaires,” when the buzzer sounds and room service arrives. Bill is still on his feet and heads into the hall to greet them. Oh! There’s a dining room. I only now realize. The two room-service guys in royal-blue smock outfits have wheeled our breakfast trolley into the living room and then opened the sliding doors I just noticed. I blame jetlag again for how I just seem to be moving around in this penthouse suite in a stunned state, conscious only of my bedroom, the bathroom, my loggia, and the two-story living room. Beyond the sliding doors is a full and formal dining room. Mauve chairs around a dining table: It’s modern but not cutting edge. There’s a gold-framed oval mirror on one wall. The walls are painted a putty-gray.

Bill has his phone out and is calling Hany. We’re seated in our bathrobes at the end of this long-dining table. I’m surprised to find that the glass of blood-orange juice I chose tastes freshly squeezed.

“Hany! We’re up!” And then Bill is listening. “You don’t have to come to the hotel. I can find the Museum of Modern Art for fucksake.” I’m startled. I really haven’t absorbed just where we are located. “Right. It’s less than a ten-minute walk. What time?” Bill says something like “bisous” and hangs up. “Lunch at MOMA. I don’t know the place. Michelin again, he says. The Modern. That’s the name of the restaurant. He’ll meet us there. I can’t believe museum restaurant food is any good, but I didn’t say that.” No, I heard. And then I remind him about Versailles, which, okay, is not a museum but… “Okay. You’re right. Hany’s an old friend, but I feel he’s pressuring me.” I smirk at Bill. Of course, he’s right. He wants to sell Bill a billionaire’s apartment. “Hany has changed. First of all, he’s never looked so great. But he used to be more this laidback diplomat guy. His grandfather was old Egyptian aristocracy that managed to make the shift from Farouk to Nasser. An amazing feat.” I nod. I’d thought that the army colonels wanted to wipe out the old aristocracy.  I say that. Bill laughs. “Guess not. Hany said that his grandfather was fiercely anti-British. I suppose that was enough?” He pauses, his mind’s eye seeing things, and then adds, “Really, I want to go to Cairo. You’ll go with me, right?” He’s got me in the grip of both eyes. I nod. And then I realize he’s excluded René. He seems to remember that as well. “You, too, René. Wanna go to Egypt?” René starts laughing. “I’m serious. You need to see the Pyramids.”

“I’m sure,” says René. He also chose blood-orange juice. He’s now on his café au lait. I watched him preparing it. He’s pulled apart a pain au chocolat and put a piece in his mouth.

         “I took a client from Dubai here last week. It did the trick. He needed to be reminded that Manhattan also meant art, culture.” Hany has set his menu down on the table. “That’s why I thought The Modern would be a good choice for us today. I’m going to show you three incredible apartments later. Two are penthouses but in different parts of Midtown. The last is a loft in Tribeca. We could be neighbors, Bill.” Hany chuckles. Bill looks up from his menu.

         “The menu looks good. Four courses? I’m starved.” Bill looks first at me and then at René. We both nod. Hany laughs quietly. The prices have no currency sign in front. Again, I play with the idea that they are pesos. This is the famed Museum of Modern Art, and this is how much you have to pay for lunch? How much are those New York pizza slices now then? Stop! You are not paying. Bill’s presence makes it all free for you.

         And then, a pang of fear: Could I eat, have a bed to sleep in, in this New York without Bill. What if Bill dropped dead? Stranded, living on the street? I quickly remember the three credit cards in my pocket: I could escape home. Escape home. I’m an American who would need to escape from his native country? I watch Bill studying the menu. He is not feeling this viscerally but only in a preferential, emotional way. I know his billions must be rooted in this America. His rejection of things American suddenly looks childlike, a tantrum.

         “You were always the gourmet, Bill. You’ll like the food here. Four-course prix fixe, then. And I think we should start with for Dry Martinis straight up. They are different and amazing here. I’m not the aficionado you are, Bill, but I know you’ll agree.”

         “You? A cocktail before lunch?”

         “I know. I don’t normally, but this is a moment for celebration. We haven’t seen each other in a decade, right? We’ve survived Covid. By the way, I loved the Mexican food last night. Did you?”

         Hany has turned his attention to me at this point. I don’t know why. But, I say, yes, I loved it. And I did. The guacamole with all the different sauces. The fajitas. Not to mention the margaritas. I note to Hany that I believe that those margaritas alone have staved off jetlag. He grins at me and chuckles. And now his eyes move to René.

         “I love Mexican food,” perks up René. He’s been silent but observant since we left the hotel. Every time we’re out in the city, he seems to turn into a documentary filmmaker. I wonder if he picks up on that famous vibe of energy. New York has always had that. I suppose it’s the density of people and traffic.

         “Do you love New York?” Hany is sounding like the ad campaign.

         “Yes. So far.” So far, says René. He’s holding back his judgement? I see that Hany is also surprised.

         “I’ve told him a few stories of the old days, Hany. You know. How many times have you been mugged?” Hany makes a sound between a growl and a laugh. A guffaw. He goes back to studying the menu.

         I look down at mine. I want to avoid Bill’s look of playful triumph. René has so far only walked about four blocks in Midtown. He’s seen Manhattan from the air. I hadn’t counted on the fact that Bill had told him stories. Of course he had. Wouldn’t I? So, René as documentary filmmaker has Bill’s stories running in the back of his mind as he shoots his own story. I’d love to see that movie. I’m aware as I walk up Madison Avenue of the energy but also the possibilities of random danger: Fear is part of the energy of New York.

         I look up from my menu for a minute at the sculpture garden. We are inside. A few people are seated at tables outside. I suppose they’re smokers. But they’re eating; they’re being served food. I’m glad Hany has had us seated inside, though right at the tall glass wall of windows, two tables put together, Bill at one end, Hany at the other, and René and I side-by-side with a full view of the birches and larches, a kind of Connecticut countryside thing. Rockefeller. The sculpture garden is Rockefeller, if I remember. One of the daughters. Wasn’t there a plaque somewhere?

         The Martinis arrive. They are classic. They have an olive on a toothpick. The glass cone is almost frosty. We raise our glasses in unison. I take a sip. On a near empty stomach the gin goes directly to the blood stream and brain. That twinge of New York fueled anxiety? It’s gone. Whoosh!

         “Was it the two or the three Martini lunch?” Bill almost smacks his lips as he sets the glass down on the table. “Who remembers?”

         Three Martini. I say this with the knowing assertiveness of someone familiar with the advertising world.

         Hany turns to me: “Yes. Yes. But,” he moves his hand to sit on top of mine. My right hand had landed on the edge of the table after putting my glass down. His hand feels hot, a dry heat, Egyptian desert. “Those days are long gone. You know that.” Do I? I suppose I do. I smile. He removes his hand. “Bill, the ‘eggs on eggs on eggs’ is famous. Egg and caviar.”

         “Let’s do this,” says Bill. Has he picked that Generation X expression up in London? He pulls it off, though. We all chuckle. I think, when being part of a world where nothing is unaffordable, where with money you can get away with anything, everything is a serene chuckle. The waiter arrives to take our order.

         Before the waiter leaves, Hany pauses him: “And a bottle of Ashes and Diamonds, Cabernet Blend.” The body language of the waiter then is as if he’s clicked his heels. “It’s Napa Valley, Bill. I know you only want American while you’re in Manhattan.”

         “Right you are!” Bill’s grin is ear to ear. I scramble a bit with the menu, find the wine list. I suppress a gasp. Has Bill seen that it’s 215 dollars, not pesos, a bottle? Maybe. If Hany thinks he’ll earn this back by selling Bill an apartment, I think he’ll be in for a shock.

         I’m the last one to hand the waiter back the menu.

         I look out into the sculpture garden, and my eye finds a birch tree. So beautiful. I take up my glass and have a sip of the Martini, still icy cold. Cheers!

         The driver of the black SUV limousine, pretty much the same size as the one that met us at La Guardia, sat at the wheel, motor running, as Hany opened the rear door for us. “This will be more comfortable.” He takes my elbow and urges me in first. After me comes René, and then Bill, and then Hany gets in opposite us, much like the back of an old-fashioned London cab. The driver waits as a firetruck passes. I should have put my fingers in my ears: too late. Fortunately, I feel a bit drunk from lunch. The ringing in my ears slowly dissipates.

The food was delicious and amazing. I don’t feel overfull. I don’t know what makes the food American: American-sourced ingredients? It’s true that neither Italian nor French recipes were included. But I’d like to call this cuisine global. There was nothing on my plate that I’d call regional American, or anything that reminded me of my childhood. It was good that I still had some Martini to drink with my “eggs on eggs on eggs.” The California wine was magical but quite high alcohol content. I feel slightly bludgeoned in the way this city seems to be doing to me. I can’t blame it on jetlag anymore.

         Do I want a tour of billionaire apartments? I have no choice.

         “The first one is not far from your hotel. It’s the thirtieth floor, but its view is unobstructed, Central Park, everything.” Hany was facing Bill, and this was information directed at him. “Looking out, you have a feel for the ground, the city, people walking around, traffic. After that, I’ll take you to what everyone calls Billionaires Row. There’s this needle of a building you’ve just got to see. Several top floors available.” We’re stuck in traffic. We could walk to these places. It’s all in this part of Midtown. But, of course, no. That would take time, effort, and, didn’t he mention something in Tribeca?

         I feel Bill tightening. Okay. Why didn’t he just refuse Hany from the outset yesterday? “This is all for René. I’m not in the market.” He says that firmly but with a hint of humor. Hany grins back at him.

         “I know. But it is the new New York, something that’s going to surprise you as well as be a learning experience for René.”

         “Thanks,” says René. How much did he drink? He sounds his usual perky kid self. Hany gives him a special grin; René grins back. Shit, are they flirting right in front of Bill? But I see that Bill, if he sees that, doesn’t care.

         “Thanks for lunch, Hany. The food was amazing. When did Napa Valley start producing such star vintages?” Hany preens. Bill knows the recent facts about American wine. He’s not seriously asking. “They seem to start with the alcohol of a Châteauneuf du Pape.”

         “Don’t tell my mother.”

         “I remember your mother serving wine with dinner. Or am I making this up?”

         “Didn’t you know her mother was Copt? But you know, with Nasser and the Revolution, it was time for liberation and socialism, not religion.”

         “Times have changed.”

         “Unfortunately.” Hany glances out the window at the traffic jam we were in. “I was on the phone with her every day during those Arab Spring days. Tahrir Square is only a few blocks away.  She’s no fool. She told me she was not even tempted to leave the house. She has a woman and a man, a couple without children, who live in the house with her and do the necessary errands. The man drives her car when she does go out. So, they did the necessary and they told her all the gossip on the street. I know she idolized Nasser, but she had little feeling for Mubarak. My father worked with Sadat. He died in the ambush.”

         I see Bill’s surprise. So, Hany has never told him these things? “You never told me that story?”

         “Really? That’s probably because I didn’t want you mentioning it when you met my mother.”


         The traffic begins to move. Images of Garden City in Cairo, which I strolled through once, decades ago, on a first and last trip to Cairo, play in my mind, a weird contrast to these Midtown streets. Different planets. Could be. René is staring out the window, taking it all in. No one has asked him whether or not he likes New York. Maybe Bill has when they’re alone together, but then I think Bill would have announced something triumphant like, René hates New York. Anyway, these streets, this crazy traffic, are all very familiar. The only thing so far that has alerted me to the fact that Manhattan has really altered are those “peso” prices on the menus. But places like this were always crazy expensive. I still wonder what a slice of pizza costs. But for that I’d have to be walking around more downtown, somewhere around the Village. My memory is that the last time I bought a slice, it was around a dollar. But that was more than a decade ago when I flew over with Bill for the memorial service.

         I break the silence in the car and ask Hany about the cost of a slice. “Are you still hungry?” His elegant business face now crinkles in a huge grin and then he laughs. “I know. I know why you’re asking. I don’t eat pizza. But I read that it’s now around five dollars.” His reaction to the shock on my face is another laugh and a slap on my knee. Bill then starts laughing. René watches us all. I can see he doesn’t relate. Why would he?

There’s a private elevator. Heaven help billionaires and celebrities forced to occupy space with other residents or their guests! “It’s a matter of security.” So, the old New York is not dead. Has Bill heard that?

         “Didn’t we used to think a doorman for the building was enough?” I knew Bill would jump at this chance. “But I’m not against the idea. I like it. Do you get to send down your elevator to pick up your visitors?”

         “Exactly,” says Hany, and we’ve arrived at the triplex. “The ceilings are over twelve feet.”

         “Maybe four meters?” Bill says to René with a chuckle.

         I see polished blond wood, no, honey-beige and finely, subtly grained wood paneling, beveled and towering. Hany walks towards a door and slides all twelve feet of it open. We enter a massive living room. The paneling has not stopped. “The entire triplex has this paneling.” He stands in the middle of the room and looks around, a weathervane of wealth. Glass walls of windows let in light and views over to Central Park. “The building codes ensure these views from the thirtieth floor in perpetuity.” Perpetuity. New York is the new Eternal City? Maybe. What if the global-warming doomsayers are right and that the sea will wash up Fifth Avenue? Well, maybe they just doom Lower Manhattan. Hany is right. “Come to the window. Look down. The city streets are close. People, taxis, shops are part of your life, not just panoramic views. But I’ll show you those later.”

         Hany is good. His patter is soothing. I’m sold. Is Bill? No, but he’s smiling. René is, as the Brits say, gobsmacked. Bill sees: “Wanna move in?”

         René would, I see, in a heartbeat, but he just grins back. “I’m on vacation,” he says cleverly. We all laugh, even Hany.

         I’m thinking: René has the weirdest, the most superficial view of New York City a person could have. His feet have rarely touched pavement. I’m enjoying imagining it.

         “How much?” snaps Bill and grins again.

         “Sixteen million.”

         “Is that lira?” Bill does another one of his guffaws, a new sound he has taken to making.

         “The currency of your birth,” replies Hany pokerfaced. “You can afford it.”

         “Can I?”

         Ah, and how and what does Hany know about Bill’s new wealth? Wondering that myself.

         “Wouldn’t the trust find it a good investment? Its value can only go up. You understand that, right?” Bill turns and looks out the window. He doesn’t go to the glass so he can peer down the canyon into the street, teeming with pedestrians, traffic.

         The trust. Well, I suppose so. I believe that’s how old money works. When an only child is involved, suddenly it’s jackpot time. I know Bill had no idea, really. He never led his life with the idea of billions awaiting him.

         But how does Hany know about a trust? Surely, one can’t google this stuff. I suppress a laugh.

         “What’s so funny?” Bill catches me, so I say: I’m picturing you in a scene from one of those old Hollywood movies where you sit in an oak-paneled room with your bespeckled banker of a trustee sitting behind a great mahogany desk, ready to scold you for extravagance. He bursts out laughing.

         I feel now that Hany is not appreciating the shift in mood from what his patter had created. “Let me show you more.”

         There is a great kitchen. There is another floor, an exercise penthouse and the master bedroom. Down more stairs and then more. A small apartment for, what, one’s bodyguard? I want to quip that all these stairs would guarantee “steps,” exercise points, but I keep quiet. I’m almost out of breath. René is not; he’s dazzled.

         All this honey beige is soothing as great wealth must be soothing, or so I imagine. “I wonder if this apartment existed when I used to live in the city.”

         “No. Of course not. Bill, everything has changed.”

         “I’m aware of that. Can I get an apartment in The Dakota?” I know he’s teasing Hany, but Hany then thinks.

         “Not at the moment, but they do come up. I’ll keep you informed.”

         “Oh, don’t…” but Bill stops. He doesn’t want to insult Hany. “That would be fun.”

         “We could be neighbors with Yoko Ono.” We all turn in surprise at René. “You think I don’t know about Yoko Ono just because of my age?” Yes, I suppose we did. “New York is legendary.”

         “And so it is, René, except that the legend has come to a halt.”

         “You think so, Bill? I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Hany cuts short Bill’s chuckle. And there’s the confrontation between these friends, old friends, I take it. Hany does think he’s going to seduce Bill into appreciating this New York. This apartment is, to use the term coined back in Fire Island days, fabulous. Truly. The one thing is that it’s way too big. Meant for a large family or some kind of celebrity with an entourage? Did Hany say five terraces?

         Up until now I’ve been with Billionaire Bill in amazing hotel suites. Funny: They are actually the right size for Bill. I think up until maybe the sixties, wealthy people lived in suites in hotels where they could have all the amenities from laundry to dining. Didn’t Eloise live at The Plaza? I haven’t thought about Eloise in decades. Wasn’t the moral of the story something about the fate of rich kids abandoned to nannies by their indifferent parents? Not sure, but that sounds like a good modern take.

         “You look amused.” Hany has caught me daydreaming about Eloise. So, I tell him about Eloise. “I don’t know about this Eloise. There’s always something about New York I don’t know. And now it’s gearing up to be…”

         “The most expensive city in the world?” Bill grins. “I remember Eloise. It’s from the fifties. Lots of zany illustrations. And wasn’t there a movie in…?” He pulls out his smartphone. “Yes. 2003. I didn’t see it.”

         “I was two years old.” We all focus on René. I’ve never thought about René in the light of years I remember so well. That year I moved into the apartment Bill likes so much now.

         “René’s view of New York is fresh, Bill. Listen to him. You’re jaded.” Bill’s response is to chuckle. “Okay, you’ve seen this place. Now on to Millionaires Row.”

         “I don’t like the name. Are they all lined up like bowling pins waiting to be knocked over?” We’ve moved to the elevator. Hany is pressing the button.

         “I don’t think it’s the end of the world just yet, do you?” Hany is asking me. I grin back. “Right. I’m bored reading about this climate stuff. My next company car will be electric.” The elevator arrives.

         “So, René, what do you think of living like that in New York?” Bill is asking, because this trip to New York is all about René. All eyes are now on René.

         He’s not shy. “It was an amazing apartment. Very beautiful. Fantastic views. But I don’t think this is really a neighborhood where people live, is it? I mean, I don’t get the feeling when we’re walking that we’re in a place where people live and go to the supermarket.”

         I give René douze points for this one. The question is in the realm of things like the Eurovision Song Contest. He’s felt that we haven’t been anywhere that ordinary New Yorkers might call home.

         I have no real idea where ordinary New Yorkers live myself. I think they can’t live in Manhattan anymore unless they have a rent-stabilized apartment, which I suppose requires nerves of steel, since landlords desperately want you out, so they can cash in on those three or four or five thousand dollar a month rents fellow landlords get to charge.

         “I just read that to live comfortably in New York, you need to make around a hundred and fifty thousand a year.” I’m surprised Hany is offering this information. I’m surprised at the information. Everyone has a Wall Street salary or lives parasitically off those with even higher salaries? In the blur that is billionaires, there are evidently huge numbers of millionaires.

         Bill starts laughing: “That’s nice. Are people still living on the street then?”

         “No.” Hany doesn’t allow Bill’s question time to fester. “Have you seen any?” The elevator is now at ground floor. Through the lobby, outside the doors, I see the SUV waiting for us.

         We haven’t left Midtown since we arrived. Were there ever homeless people sleeping in the streets in Midtown? I remember that big “sleep out” in Astor Place, but that was decades ago. Giuliani. Before he became a ranting alcoholic mouthpiece for Trump, did he dispose of the homeless? I have no idea. And how did he?

         I ask Bill. “I was still living here then. I don’t know. Maybe they got rounded up in the middle of the night, but the Village Voice existed back then, and they would have jumped on that kind of story. Secret midnight buses to Florida? More shelter space? Subway stations? Remember Bag Ladies?” I do. In a gallery in Soho there was a lifelike silicone and resin statue of one, wasn’t there? He’d taken me down to see it. So, he nods, “Plus rubber and human hair.” Memories. “In Paris, they’re in your face these days, not like those little bands of clochards that camped out on métro grill vents on the Boulevard Saint Germain, passing liter bottles of pinard and singing songs, when we lived there.” He puts his hand on René’s shoulder. “I used to live sort of in this part of New York. Down in the East Thirties. I worked for the UN. I was no millionaire.” René looks over and up at him and smiles. Bill is a bit taller than René. And then he stops for a second to turn and stop Bill. “I think I need to see Trump Tower, don’t I?” We all stop then. We all hear.

         “We could. It’s not far from here. But he doesn’t live there anymore. Like old rich people, he moved to Florida to avoid state taxes. Are you a fan?” I’m thinking someone is going to start laughing, but no one does.

         “Right.” René is the one who laughs. “He’s old and fat.”

         And suddenly I see New York and the United States, for a second, through the eyes of this middle-class kid from Antwerp. Maybe. Belgians have a raunchy sense of humor. Brussels has its Manneken Pis. The French love Jerry Lewis. I’ve never personally encountered a European who didn’t find Trump grotesque. On the morning that Europe learned that he had won the presidency, friends messaged condolences, disbelief. The media quickly explained the arcane Electoral College.

         “Let’s not be ageist,” quips Bill. René pales for a second. Is he thinking: Bill, you’re not fat? “Of course, you’re not. I know that.” Right, Bill. You are living proof.

         “Shall we?” Hany is moving toward the revolving doors of the building.

         The elevator door opens, and there stands Maryse. “Bonjour!” she sings to us. “So very glad to see you again. Sorry about last night.” Bill steps forward, and bisous take place. I’m happy to see her too. She adds elegance to this all-male contingent. She is wearing the same kind of skirt suit, but now in a riveting cerulean blue. I almost blurt out that she looks fabulous: The silly word is echoing in my head still. My turn for the bisous, and a simple “nice seeing you again.” René’s turn: She seems to especially enjoy his bisous. And then I think: the French thing. But speaking French is a bit of a no-no in Antwerp. Still, doesn’t René speak French? Didn’t he speak French in Paris? I can’t remember now.

         Hany takes her hand and kisses it. Whoa! I wasn’t expecting that! Bill also looks surprised. And then he looks away down the foyer to the opening to a monstrously large two-story living room, all glass wall full of sky. I see that René has seen this. He waits for Bill. This time Bill doesn’t wait for an escort from either Hany or Maryse. With René at his side, he walks through the foyer and enters the room. The two of them are silhouetted in the doorway, blocking the raging light. I’m left awkwardly with Hany and Maryse. “You’ve known Bill for years. Don’t you think he should move back to New York? He’d be a welcome addition to the billionaires living here. There aren’t that many, maybe a hundred.” I immediately think a hundred is too many but of course don’t say it. Who was the mayor of New York who got all this rolling really? Not Giuliani. Ah, the guy with the financial media thing that bears his name: Bloomberg.

         “Don’t you think that a New York billionaire who used to work for the UN would be a beautiful addition?” Her hand is on my arm as if wrangling my attention. I’m not fleeing; I’m not going anywhere. Her finger nails are painted the same color as her suit. “His old-money status would be very influential.” How does she know about this old-money thing? Stupid. Once they found out Bill was coming, they did their research. It’s part of the job, I’m sure. “Noblesse oblige.” She pronounces this with an accent somewhere between French and English. Clever. She knows enough not to intimidate with a real French accent, although her “bonjour” was musically French. She has changed perfume. It’s very familiar. My mother. It’s Chanel Number Five.

         Her hand leaves my arm. She heads off down the short hall.

         “Shall we?” Hany comes up and nudges my arm. “I know Bill has a mind of his own. I hope I didn’t seem to pressure you.” Do I feel pressured? No. Hasn’t Hany realized that the path to get Billionaire Bill to move to New York goes through René? If there is a path? Nothing in the last twenty-four hours has me thinking that Bill has changed his mind. Although his sudden whim to rent a jet so he could show René New York still hangs there, dangling in the back of my mind like a limb in a surrealist painting.


I think I may be missing the Meurice, although there was no work by Dalí in his former suite.

         “This is the highest living space in New York City.” Bill and René are listening to Maryse intently. The space is all off-white, including all this soft seating: couches, armchairs. I do know this is just staging furniture, furnishings to show off the physical aspects of the apartment and giving an impression of living in it. I go to the window. It is breathtaking. All of Central Park at my feet, like a toy town. What would this do to a person’s head living here? “The Mount Olympus of Manhattan.” Yes, that’s it: The owner of this apartment would go full Zeus. Maryse is smiling. Bill smiles back. René is observant. Are thoughts of inhabiting Olympus, Ganymede to Bill’s Zeus, playing around there? I can’t know, only fantasize. René is always surprising me.

         I stare out. I remember the tale of Jesus being tempted by Satan. Bill is no Jesus. This is all getting too silly. Why is Bill going along with Hany’s property tour?

         “We can do an attractive proposal for the trustees. The city-tax situation is very interesting. Many of these apartments are pied-à terres.” Bill is listening to Maryse intently. I’m thinking she must make a lasting impression on potential buyers with the mellifluousness of her voice compared to so many of the New York women I’ve overheard, despite myself, since being here. There is no razor “r” and no harsh caw to her voice. And then that subtle, undefinable accent. Bill is enjoying himself.

         “Sounds a bit lonely.”

She responds with a gentle laugh.

“What do billionaires do in New York these days?”

         “Galas. Openings. Opera. Theater.”

Bill smiles at this list.

         “There’s still a hot gay scene, Bill.” Hany has taken over. “René would love House of Yes.” René snaps to attention. Bill starts laughing.

         “I love the name. Is it the new Studio?”

         “You’re living in the past, Bill. It’s the now gay scene. It’s in Brooklyn.”

         “Oh no! You mean the Factory on Union Square is closed?” Bill is fueled by the Martini and wine from lunch. “But that’s the point. Why would I move to Manhattan so I could go to Brooklyn for a hot nightlife? Is Brooklyn cheap? Is Brooklyn affordable? Is that where all the crazy artists live now?”

         “No. No. And no.” Hany grins back at Bill.

         “What is House of Yes?” René looks from Bill to Hany. “I like the idea of the name.”

         “You’d love it. We can all go tonight. That’s a great idea! I can let Julio know right now. He loves time-and-a-half.” I assume Julio is the chauffeur. It’s the company car? It’s Hany’s car? I don’t know if Hany has his own real-estate company or whether he’s an employee. I’m in no position to ask.

         Hany is pulling his phone out of the pocket of his suit jacket.

“Wait! Can we have five minutes to think this evening over?” Bill is laughing, and then chuckling. Hany grins back and puts his phone back in his pocket.

         “I’ve been to House of Yes with Hany. It’s lots of fun. But let me show you more of this apartment, Bill.” And suddenly we’re back in the groove of viewing this apartment. Maryse is a force to be reckoned with. If anyone can convince Bill to buy this or any Billionaires Row apartment, it’s Maryse. I move along in the wake of her Chanel Number Five. I just read somewhere that during the Paris Occupation, Coco Chanel lived in a suite in The Ritz in very close proximity to the Nazi High Command. And then I’m back to thinking about the days when rich people lived in hotel suites. We are suddenly in the kitchen. I’ve heard of these things: Sub-zero freezer, the now ubiquitous induction cooktop. The kitchen is very beautiful. Did she say Carrara marble for the countertops? I don’t see anything really that would, other than that marble, set this billionaire kitchen apart from a modern middle-class Dutch one. And then I remember the small and primitive New York City apartment kitchens. Even Bill, who lived in the relative lap of luxury in his UN days, had a hideously primitive, cramped kitchen, out of which, granted, he would produce great meals, not that my Paris kitchen was spacious or advanced in any way.

         I take a refreshed view of this spacious and beautiful kitchen in the light of memory. Okay. Is Bill looking impressed and at all moved by Maryse’s guidance? The first apartment also had a gorgeous kitchen. Do billionaires cook now? Who are these kitchens for?

         “I like to cook.” Bill runs his hand over the Carrara marble.

         Maryse moves us on to another space of the needle-top of this penthouse apartment. It is the old-fashioned equivalent of a winter garden. We are far too high up to actually go outside.

         René, I can see, is increasingly overwhelmed by the opulence. Certainly, Antwerp has no equivalent, but I don’t know if Antwerp is really the limit of his world. He seemed pretty at ease in Paris. If anyone will have influence over Bill, I think it will be René. For someone who had ruled out New York as part of the Dead, along with London, Bill took a chance in flying us all to New York. He took this risk for René; he said as much.

         We’re in a bathroom that was actually a small spa. Did she call that a rain-forest shower? There’s a sauna. There’s a huge free-standing bathtub: She pauses in front of it. “There have been complaints of the water sloshing slightly in your tub as the building rides the wind.” She’s good: We all burst out laughing.

         She leads us through a wardrobe room that could house a small boutique. Shoes. I think of Imelda Marcos; I think we all do. And then the master bedroom with its own lounge area: I think of the chambers of Marie-Antoinette, although I think it was common for Victorian bedrooms to include sitting-room areas, making them small apartments. Again, this master bedroom is dominated by the view over Central Park and Manhattan Island and further into even Connecticut, maybe. We are at the summit of the New York City world. I remember the view of the region from the roof of the old World Trade Center. This feels higher. The view dominates nearly all the rooms of the triplex. The top floor has a ballroom and a chef’s kitchen.

         I think: Emperor. The owner of this apartment is the Emperor of New York. His or her domain is constantly in view. Gods. Olympus.

         I’ve had enough. René is starting to look fidgety. I bet after an hour at Versailles, he was much the same. How much can one absorb of such megalomania. How’s Bill doing?

         “Thank you, Maryse. Astounding, really. I don’t know this New York. I guess the Robber Barons who had their mansions on Fifth Avenue also had ballrooms. Personally, I don’t need a ballroom. I can’t imagine a human being living here.” Maryse is about to say something but… His smirk cuts her off: “This has to be the residence of an emperor. I know: New York is the Empire State.” She starts again. “No. Maryse, this place is amazing. Let me know who finally buys it and moves in. So curious.” She has given up and smiles. What was she going to say?

         Ah, here we go: “As a scion of old money, Bill, I think you are the closest thing America has to aristocracy, though maybe this wouldn’t make you an emperor?” She is staring at him point blank and then she winks. Bullseye: Bill is the deer in the headlights for a second, and then he bursts out laughing.

         “How much does the emperor need to fork over for this?”

         A sublime smile flickers across Maryse’s mouth as she composes: “The bidding starts at forty million.”

         There is a stillness that might be that of death if the dead could return to describe it. I find myself holding my breath for no good reason. No one is breathing.

         Hany breaks the silence. “I think it’s time for Tribeca, Bill. Very different.” Bill glances at his watch. I also wonder what time it is. The alcohol from lunch has worn off. I’m feeling thirsty. Are we all really going to end up in this House of Yes, in Brooklyn?

         “Can I get a glass of water?” René’s request startles Maryse, who is still in control of this visit and so is the person René is asking. We are passing through the smaller of two dining rooms. René breaks off from the group and moves toward the kitchen. “I’m just going to drink from the tap.” Maryse looks horrified. “Do you mind?” René pauses then. I could be next in line at the sink.

         “If you can hold off, there’s plenty to drink in the car.” Maryse smiles as she puts a hand on Hany’s shoulder. Hany has stepped in. They are quite the team: And then I imagine them as the imperial couple that inhabits this triplex. “Shall we go?”

         We may be in the secure confines of this SUV limousine, each of us sipping from our own small bottle of Evian (France’s water quenching our thirst!), but as we move down Ninth Avenue what I see out the window is the mix of brick tenements and white-brick-faced high-rise apartment buildings that I know, the gritty sidewalks. Our driver Julio – we now know his name – maneuvers the aggressive but stoic traffic, no vehicle expecting to get too far ahead of any other; this lumbering traffic would be peppered with the sound of sirens if this limousine was not so eerily soundproofed. The contrast with the triplex palace of the Emperor of New York is at first startling and then unsettling. Would the Emperor ever set foot on the pavement, walk these streets, go to pick up a quart of milk? René is staring out the window; he’s half-finished his water. I’m thinking that he has similar thoughts to mine. “We should get out and walk around a bit.” He’s turned and is grinning now at Bill.

         “I know. I know, but Hany has us on a tight schedule.”

         Hany glances at his watch – is it a Rolex? – on cue: “You’re right about that.” And then I think how nice it would be if I could smell Maryse’s perfume again and if she were with us. She’s not. No explanation, but I assume she is waiting in the triplex to show it to a prospective buyer who I couldn’t even begin to imagine: a Saudi prince, a Gulf emir, a renegade Russian oligarch? A cash payment, money laundered. I’m back to looking out, as Ninth Avenue turns into Hudson Street; I’m thinking how impossible it would be to see such a prince walking down the street. Or any celebrity actually negotiating everyday life. The days of Greta Garbo, though in dark glasses and ugly kerchief, doing errands on the Upper East Side must truly be gone.

         “Tribeca is more laid back. It’s a real neighborhood.” Hany is setting us up. I know this part of the West Village. It looks unchanged except there are more places with big awnings. I know it’s no longer bohemian. I think it’s still mostly rental but far from cheap: That Village experience costs a few thousand dollars a month, or maybe even more. Part of the attraction of putting up with nasty, cramped apartments, up flights of fire-proofed stairs, used to be the cheap rents. I can’t imagine paying thousands a month to live under these conditions, yet people do.

         I ask Hany what a one-bedroom apartment rent would be. “If you’re lucky, three thousand. You do get heat.” He grins at my reaction. “I know. The Village experience is expensive.” Artists, musicians, writers? “The very successful ones, yes. But they are nostalgiques. And they are usually older and maybe are rent-stabilized.” I look at him. “I know. It’s a bit depressing.” He has read my mind; I tell him so. I get a conspiratorial smile from him. Hany is a good ten years younger than Bill, I’d say. He has a different collection of experiences about New York. Bill hated the advent of Reagan; Hany would seem indifferent to American politics, since he is after all Egyptian. Hany obviously loves money. Bill has always been as indifferent to money as Hany to American politics. Bill always knew he would inherit, that he had no financial worries ever, but I know that the amount, the billionaire thing, came as a profound shock. I’m watching him play around with his new situation, testing various waters, and going through a period of adjustment.

         It hits me now that, for Bill, I’m his best friend. Didn’t he intimate that back on arrival in Rotterdam? Maybe, but I shrugged it off, no, deleted it at the time.

         Now? Right. Okay. This is very nice. It’s endearing. But it’s embarrassing. And I’ve failed in deleting it. I see myself more as a witness to Bill’s life.

         In that vein…

         Bill has been very up front with Hany. And yet Hany and Maryse still act as if they can sell Bill a multi-million-dollar apartment. What do they see that I don’t?

         I look out the window. To my eyes, this neighborhood looks as gritty as it always did. These buildings were built as sweatshops and for storage. They were never glamorous. Well, neither were the Soho ones loft buildings either, but many have cast-iron facades meant to please a late nineteenth-century eye. The car stops in front of what must have been a gigantic warehouse.

         Julio gets out and opens a backdoor for us. I happen to be the first out. I move up onto the broad sidewalk and look around. I see nice shops. I see nice restaurants. They are not on top of each other but are strolling difference. Hany is right. This is a neighborhood, although a weird one, since never built for habitation. There’s traffic and its noise, but neither are heavy. René is already out and looking around. I think of him as “I am a camera,” minus the allusion to Twenties Berlin. Bill is up and out. He looks around like someone who’s been in a tunnel. “Hey, you can see the sky.” Hany is out, and Julio closes the door behind him.

         “I told you it was very different. It was being developed just about the time you transferred to London. The area trailed Soho. The work needed to live here required a bit more money and effort. You’ll see.”

         “René, you couldn’t pay for a tour of present-day New York this good. You can thank Hany. No, not really. Literally. I’m just joking.” René thanks Hany anyway.

         We’re standing in front of a newly scoured beige-brick façade with brown stripes, late nineteenth century maybe, maybe a sweatshop, maybe a warehouse. René looks confused: Yes, René, it’s a bit crazy like Antwerp is. I wouldn’t call the building pretty, but it’s certainly memorable. Probably a landmark at this point in time.

         “Gentlemen!” We snap to attention, and he leads us to the front door.

         There seems to an apartment or a couple of apartments on this, the ground floor entrance area. We pass a massive industrial elevator. I remember these clangy, beaten-up, and massive elevators from visits to Soho with Bill in its early days. Gallery hopping on a Saturday. But no; we’re not stopping here. Of course, there’s a private elevator, brand new, utilitarian big but not industrial. Movers could use it, though. A museum-type elevator. “This is an awesome big elevator.” Hany laughs nicely at René’s outburst.

         “Wait until you see the penthouse.” Hany takes a key and unlocks the access button to the penthouse floor. Bill is next to René and puts an arm around his shoulder. I think this is the first sign of physical affection I’ve seen Bill show René. Or it could be marking territory as in “René is mine.” Hany is not being too clever in his behavior towards René, always just short of ogling, really. “I hope you’re all still thinking about whether you want to go out to House of Yes. I know Maryse loves going and would love going over there tonight, but it’s up to you.” He’s addressing this to Bill.

         The ride is short. Four floors? I haven’t been paying attention. We step out into what feels like an airplane hangar. One wall is exposed brick and is two-stories high. In a corner on the entrance side is a brass and steel spiral staircase. I suppose this leads to a bedroom or bedrooms. This is a loft! Gone all the hallways and rooms we’ve visited before. One corner is couches and armchairs. Another corner is dining table and chairs, with a massive kitchen nearby, a new definition of eating in the kitchen. This is classic loft living but on a gargantuan scale.

         All three apartments we have visited are gargantuan, in fact, and are all spaces I would find way too big to live in myself. But they are not designed for me; they are designed for the gargantuan egos of millionaires and billionaires. I ask Hany how much this place is selling for. He picks up on my exasperation, unfortunately. I’m tired, the alcohol from lunch has definitely worn off, and I’ve lost my cool. But Bill grins at me out of the blue. “I think eight million. There’s the start of a bidding war, so…” Hany is unfazed. And suddenly all business again. Yes, this is all very serious. Hany is in fact teaching Bill what it means to be a billionaire. I wonder what that is going to lead to. Hany deals with billionaires and millionaires on a daily basis. He is probably, no, he is certainly a millionaire himself.

         Bill and I haven’t had a private conversation since René arrived on the scene. I’m wondering why I’m here.

         We clamber up the spiral staircase. Four people mounting this staircase at the same time makes quite a racket. But then, yes, bedrooms, two baths. No gym. No private suite for the bodyguard. This apartment, as monstrous as the downstairs loft area is, is on a human scale I can identify with. “You’re right, Hany. Tribeca is probably more my style.” Hany beams at Bill as if he’s made a kill. He hasn’t; I’m sure of that. René looks disappointed. He’s gotten addicted to the Versailles aspect of these apartments for millions of dollars. This apartment, except for the hangar feel downstairs, he finds boring. I can see it. I catch his eye and grin. He turns away; I’ve caught him, and he doesn’t like it.

         “So, what do you think, Bill?”

         “This seems a lot more livable. But Maryse was right that the trustees would find the last apartment a better investment. Not that I’m not free to buy this one if I want. Hany, I don’t want to live in New York City anymore. You know, never step in the same stream twice? Because that’s impossible. The New York I loved is gone. A long time ago.”

         My eye turns to Hany. This is the moment of truth. Hany is obviously prepared. “But you can at least imagine living here. That’s a good step in the right direction.”

         Like a tennis match, I look at Bill now. “You are unbelievable.” Bill’s chuckle then is controlled and short. “You must be very successful. When did this all start?”

         “You know. You know when I left the UN.”

         “I know, but the guy I knew at the UN was easy-going and indifferent to money.”

         “And then that guy woke up.” The smile that appears on Hany’s face is eons old. Pharaonic. “I love this New York. I love the change from homeless camping out on Astor Place…” Ah, so he was living here then. “I love the progression to fine living, the things that wealth brings. The kid you knew came from a family that once knew great wealth but was resigned to the reality of Egypt. I’m not that guy any more. I like to think that I’m like the guy who created our family’s wealth back in the days of the Mamluks.”

         “Mamluks? I’m impressed. That old.”

         “You didn’t know? Then you’ve forgotten. Or maybe when you were staying in my mother’s house it was never mentioned. It wasn’t her family, after all. Hers goes back, well, to the beginning of time.” He bursts out laughing. “You know: Copts.”

         “I suppose. I never thought of the Copts that way. They could just as well be Greeks. I’m thinking Ptolemies.”

         “Ah. Could be. Except that my mother’s family came from Upper Egypt.” Hany seems to have grown taller. He is standing stiff. I can read the pride and the arrogance. “Bill, you know, other than all that, I’ll inherit nothing. My kind of old money is dead money, the stuff of nostalgia.”

         “Touché.” Bill turns to René. “Should we go out to the House of Yes tonight? Stop. I know the answer already. And you’re right. Hany, can we do this?”

         “My pleasure.” He pulls out his phone. He only texts. When did he warn Julio of this possibility to earn more cash? Doesn’t the guy have a family, kids? And, of course, no one has asked me if I want to go to the House of Yes.

         “Are you up for it? Come on. I hope so, because my plan is that we’ll have a look and then leave René in Hany’s good hands.” I nod. Of course. I say, thanks for asking me. “Stop. You need to enjoy all this as much as anyone. Stop thinking that you’re along for the ride.” But I am along for the ride, but I don’t say it. I’m not complaining. I’m enjoying myself. And I then say that. “Great!” Bill appears seriously pleased and relieved. All of a sudden, he’s that guy right off the Eurostar needing a joint.

         Hany finishes texting and waits. Julio texts him right back. He puts the phone back in his pocket and blesses us all with a benign smile. “Can I now be in charge of the rest of the day and the evening? Bill?”

         “What else is new.” Bill heads off Hany’s frown. “I love it. René loves it. We all love it.”

         “Good, because my plan now is to take you back to my place. You’ll get to see how I live here in Tribeca. We can have some nibbles and some drinks. And then I want to introduce you to some people. Maryse is coming. There’s a little dinner planned already at the Tribeca Grill. It’s Tribeca’s version of old money?”

         “You can just have the three of us come along, just like that?”

         “Yup. I’m not even going to warn them. I will text Maryse now. She’ll kill me if I don’t give her a heads up so she can dress for later.”

         “I like Maryse.” Hany beams back at Bill. “Are you going to marry her?” Hany bursts out laughing.

         “Anything to please my mother. And Maryse’s family would also be delighted. This is how it is in the Middle East. You know that.”

         “I do know that. But you won’t have kids.”

         “Oh? Why not?”

         Bill’s eyes are opaque for a minute. I can’t wait for what he’s going to say next. “You’re right. Why not?” His eyes are dancing at Hany. Boring: I expected Bill to launch into something better than this, some gay ode to trueness to oneself. No.

         René has been following all this with great interest. “I can’t wait to see what a New York club is like.” Oh, you little devil: You’ve been thinking more than just that. I know it. I know it, because he ignores my eye contact.

         I back off. Maybe sex with Bill is enough.

Bill puts a hand back on René’s shoulder. “This trip is for you, René.” I see Hany looking puzzled at Bill. Surely, he’s understood that Bill has come here just to show René around. Hany has spun his web. I know he’s going to be a very disappointed spider.