I was at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 14th Street, staring up at an enormous billboard for Banana Republic. “That’s CARLY!” I gasped. (FYI, names are changed where innocence must be protected.) “Who?” my boyfriend asked.
She was standing in a phalanx of nattily dressed models, looking intent and pouty, her arched eyebrows unmistakable, levitating above the crowds at Markt restaurant.
“Carly. Went to Hampshire. Rich,” I murmmured, instantly regretting that I said “rich” before explaining who she actually was, as a person, a collaborator. “She worked on my thesis production. She’s a photographer.” And also, I thought, she is rich, her family is rich, like old Back Bay rich (or something), and effortlessly beautiful, and deeply talented, and a little flighty, and glibly entitled in a way I couldn’t help resenting, secretly. She spent her time at Hampshire making endless art, and I imagined that never worrying about money freed one to make endless art. She appears still to be invested in such pursuits, likely for decent pay, since she’s very good. But I always encountered a little bit of static with how…easy and gorgeous everything about her seemed. Charmed. Privileged. Even if she was poor, she’d still be six feet tall and willowy and full-lipped, and there is something about beauty that acts as currency. You can talk your way into any place with beauty; we humans are shallow, visual creatures, easily captivated.
Whenever I pass the ad–at Banana Republic, on billboards before descending the stairs to the subway–I try not to look at it, but I always do. I think, Jesus, she’s pretty. I think, You used to live with a bunch of irresponsible cokeheads in a disgusting apartment next door. I think, You used to ask me to buy “snackies” at the campus store before rehearsal because you had a candy addiction. I think, You never worried about money. Everything you do is effortless.
Your world is utterly distinct from mine.
I am endlessly hung up on class. I can’t un-stitch it from someone’s fabric. It’s always there. But there’s something unimaginative about stopping there, about ending the conversation there, about painting people into corners. I cringe when I think of someone doing that to me because I’m white. But I also wouldn’t blame them.